I am home now. Began traveling at 5am from Rome to London to Phoenix, arriving at home in Tucson around 11pm. As Rome is 8 hours later than Tucson, that makes for 22 hours of traveling, approximately one day.

All in all, I do ok traveling/transiting. Having a meditation practice and a spiritual practice helps. I can always pray and meditate. I can always read and write. I can usually find a clear, uninhabited place in the airport for yoga asana when needed.

I am always doing something subtle for my body, but only do obvious asanas if I can feel inconspicuous. As I did handstand in the Delhi airport a few weeks ago (I actually found a private space), a rat ran across my inverted visual screen. Not close enough to alarm me, but close enough to remind me- “This is India”.

Yesterday in Heathrow, I found an area away from video screens and people and used the chair to hang off for a long, inverted stick pose and shoulder stand. Inversions really help keep up my attitudinal stamina and my digestive processes. Rama would be proud to see me using the furniture to great effect. Students of Rama can visualize me clearly! Terminal 5 in London Heathrow feels like a hermetically sealed spaceship, I did not think for a second about vermin.

There is of course an abundance of distractions and entertainments in the airports and on the planes to help you forget the fact that you are a confined animal for this period of transition from here to there:

There is shopping, very boring.

There are video screens, very boring.

There are people from all over, and different languages to hear- Russian, French, German, Arabic…

There are old people traveling alone who seem totally mystified, its not the way it used to be….

There are children dancing through the security arch, making the dour security guards laugh and smile. (If you get agitated or annoyed, just focus on the children, see what they are up to, they are always amusing themselves somehow and are quite adorable)

There are beleaguered mothers with tons of luggage and babies to neutralize.

There are business people in suits, with briefcases, laptops, phones, not wasting a minute- Oh what it would feel like to be in business class or first class where you lie down for the long journey- not to mention the real food they serve you there!

There are the real food restaurants now in the airport- fresh organic juice, miso soup, range-free meat. I would be happy to have a “wagamama” in Tucson or an ITSU. Both Japanese inspired.

Speaking of the Japanese, they win the prize for fashion, whatever they are wearing, boys and girls, old and young, expensive or cheap- very, very chic

There are “travelers” that tribe of people who look a bit like every place they have ever visited, look natural and hip and at ease with the world and all its craziness, look like they should indeed be allowed to roam the Earth perpetually in their own way, for their own purposes.

En route to gate B48, I assist a couple from South India who I realize are going to Phoenix- they are perplexed about why they were sent from this gate to the main area, only to be sent back. Terminal 5 is very modern, but not necessarily clear cut. It can take 20 to 30 minutes to get to your gate. They have been confused also by pronunciations- they speak English but misheard a sound and went way off course. We are all headed in the right direction now and in plenty of time.

They speak Tamil and are from Hyderbad- a city near where I was but did not visit. Tamil was the first language I had to negotiate on the trip (since then Hindi, Newari, Nepali, and Italian) so it was good to return to it. He is a structural engineer, she a housewife. He was interested in Vedic Astrology, knew his chart, had tested several different readers so was interested in my experience. She was not interested in the least in her future- but was delighted to see my interest in their culture. He was coming to the states for the second time and her for the first, to attend their sons graduation from ASU in “device physics”. In typical Indian fashion they invited me sincerely to the graduation- “please come, please do come!” And gave me an open invitation to Hyderbad- “anytime, really!”. She is called Rohini, which is a section of the constellation Taurus where the moon is exalted. Rohini is mythically the favorite wife of the moon, Chandra. He would like to spend all of his time with her, but is driven by his father-in-law to make his rounds to the many other wives. This is the story that gives us a myth for the phases of the moon.

Home- it feels good for sure. It feels like I have only been away a few days. It feels like it was enough time, nothing rushed. As I had hoped, it opens my mind, heart, imagination to other journeys.

Peter has moved my office, he now has the front office to himself and I have the yoga room. He has created a built in that is lovely and already inspires me in a new way. He has built a wooden security door in front of our glass front door and installed an alarm, there have been some home invasions around us this year. He has polished and cleaned my car so it looks new. The house is clean and cozy. I take a long, hot shower upon arrival. Peter, Emma, and Beanie (our dog and cat) sit on the floor in the bathroom and watch me. Sleeping in our bed is disorienting for some reason, where am I? It doesn’t feel the same as when I left. It feels a bit like I am drunk. I haven’t felt this disoriented in the 20 plus places I have slept while away, perhaps it is like a boomerang, it is all hitting me now that I am back where I started, caught by the hand that launched me 6 weeks ago. The dog sleeps on the floor, but by morning everyone is on the bed near me. Emma stays near me all day. Peter tells me after breakfast that she had a hard time, that she had a stroke, that he has been nursing her, that she is walking again. Yes, I could feel something going on with her and Peter while I was gone. I am sorry to have taxed her, but also know that is life, to be taxed and that she is aging, there is no way to stop that process. Meanwhile, there is love and that is what makes it all worthwhile.

Peter makes me his espresso in the morning (with beans that he roasts himself), the best in the world, better than Tazza D Oro in Rome for sure. We have apple pancakes for breakfast, he roasts chestnuts for a snack this afternoon, He makes pea soup for dinner. Could I have a better husband?

I have final thoughts about my travels of course that I want to share, but as I have already said a lot, I will keep it simple:

It is a blessing to be able to “go away”- on so many levels- a blessing:

People speaking English to you, as you don’t speak their language, what a privilege.

To visit someplace truly foreign and not feel like a tourist, what a difference.

To make contact with so many people, and to feel like everyone was special and significant in and of themselves.

To make lifelong friends and to also know some people will never be seen again.

To stay healthy through yoga, meditation, prayer, and positive thinking- not to mention good quality food and accommodations.

To stay safe while there are others, in many places besides Mumbai, in danger and peril.

To experience true hospitality

To be alone and not lonely

To have company in perfect ways

To have opportunity and to trust that it can affect those that appear not to.

I took “Autobiography of a Yogi” on my trip, by Yogananda- one of the first books that I read about yoga over 20 years ago. It is an amazing read and inspired me (and many Westerners) to walk a yogic path. When I started re-reading it again I asked myself if I was “jaded” now? If I was not so eager or willing to believe or pursue, let alone realize yogic goals- the primary one being self-realization. As I sit now, with enumerable experiences resonating in me from this pilgrimage, so much more than I could ever try to convey, I feel like that question is resolved. No, I am not jaded. Yes, I am ready to do something new to bring yoga to use and application in our world.

Many of you know I have been wrestling with the “what to do” question. I still don’t have it clarified but do feel like I have something gestating in a more material way than before. I will be reaching out to many of you in the near future to help me. To get your response to questions I have regarding what is needed (not another yoga studio/not another teacher training program), to get your opinion about various issues regarding business and organizational structure, to request your perspective and insight. My vision is to create a yoga healing community in some form. Yoga is a broad word for me, not just what comes through a teacher or a lineage but from the Sanatana Dharma- the eternal teachings that flow not just from the East but from all cultures and traditions. This will need to be financially viable, and yet not commercially motivated. A non-profit, but is there some new way to envision that? Many of the non-profits I admired have faltered with the weight of conventional organizational pressures.

For all who have read my journal, and all who have supported my journey, and all who have graced me with their wisdom or confidence- I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

May our shared journeys continue in new forms. May our bodies, minds, emotions, and spirit find new states of integration as we live the life we have been given.

May all beings be happy and free

Lokah Samasthah Sukhino Bhavantu

ShalOm

Shanti

Peace

Love

Natasha

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My uncle thinks it is a messy and chaotic city. I think that is hilarious.

Had coffee at the best place in Rome today, Tazzo d Oro °cup of gold°, near the Pantheon. It was good, the best in Italy yet, but Peters coffee is much better, seriously, we who drink with him have it goooooood.Big thunderstorm here last night, crack of lightening that lifted me from my bed. The tiber is flooding. Venice has flooded badly as most of you may know, thats the north though, another country.

Had dinner with a lovely lady from Sicily. A very elegant apartment, her husbands father built the building. so simple, so good, formal but informal all at the same time. They use a little cart near the table to serve and clear courses from. My uncle was embarrassed I put my watercress on the same plate with the potatoes, not done! But Maria was fine with me of course.

Maria is from the area near Mount Etna, people described her personality as °volcanic°. She is very speedy. She came over yesterday and i taught her some yoga breathing. thats what I do right?

Where is Peter,s family from in Sicily, perhaps you are cousins?

Having been doing Ammagis IAM meditation technique in the cathedrals. The buildings are amazing with art and architecture and ornamentation, but do nothing much for me spiritually. So Amma helps me put the space to use.

Rome is almost like India in that it is layered with culture and history for thousands of years. The Pantheon is a building like the Taj Mahal in that you feel transported when around it or in it. Turning it into a church saved it but really is a loss to its essential nature.

Rome is getting ready for Christmas and it is bella, bella. Will bring Panettone home for us.

Love to you all, not as interesting now, hugh?

 

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The term for making contact with a saint, guru, divine form, holy person is “darshan°. It is from the Sanskrit root °dri° which has to do with looking or gazing. In yoga we hear the word °drishti” pertaining to where to focus ones eyes.

I arrived in Rome on Sunday afternoon; my paternal uncle met me at the airport. It felt very different to be in Europe. I passed through London already, but now it is official, I am not in Asia anymore.

It feels so easy here, so quiet and calm and sane. My uncle thinks this is odd as for him Rome is crazy and erratic, compared to San Francisco or Paris, his two other favorite cities.

On the plane I sat next to a Sikh woman from Chandigarh. She was young and beautiful with long dark hair pulled back in a braid. She was wearing innumerous bangles on both arms and rings on every finger. She was nervous and commanding, with extra baggage and needing lots of male support to hoist her things into the overhead compartment. During the 9 hour flight we talked a bit and it turns out that her hair is long as it is a Sikh custom to not cut their hair, that the bangles indicate that she is recently married and she will wear them for 1 year, that she has all her jewelry on as she is en route to her new husband in Canada and her inlaws instructed her that this was the safest route to carry her valuables, that she is commanding because she is used to having servants at home, that she is nervous because she is flying for the first time, leaving home for good, heading to her husband’s family that will now be her family. It was of course an arranged marriage, but in this case, they met through the internet, within 3 months it was all decided. Another Sikh family, the same caste or class. In Canada though, no servants. She will need to learn how to do things herself. With her in laws guiding her of course.

In Italy, my uncle lives with his partner and his childhood friend from Chicago, Sandy, who knew my parents as well. Her and my mom were the same age and had their first child at the same time. They were both very beautiful and wild. The children slowed them down, but their natures were not dissimilar. We all go to dinner at °Ensalata Rica° which is a good salad chain. I eat raw food for the first time in weeks and drink white wine. Olive Oil, sun dried tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, corn, Italian Bread, balsamic vinegar. It all tastes more delicious than ever before.

The next day Gerald and I go for a walk in his beloved City. He lives in the shadow of the Coliseum. We walk down the °Via Emperiali°, a street created by Mussolini with ancient looking columns that actually credit him and reference his dream to create a new modern Roman empire. We pass the Roman forum and Trajan’s marketplace. We come to the Piazza Venezia, where Mussolini gave a famous speech from the balcony of a palace, we wander by the Parliament buildings and ancient churches. Gerald can decode everything i am seeing. He knows Rome’s history from its beginnings to the present moment and speaks Italian fluently. It is a special odd holiday this day, °The feast of the Immaculate Conception° of Mary. A strange holiday declared only 150 years ago that says that Mary was conceived normally, yet immaculately, thus making her the proper vehicle for the birth of Christ. Got it? People are roaming the streets in a casual way as it is holiday.

Gerald and I get 3 special treats on our way back. An old palace is open, with an art show, and we can wander in and see the grand rooms- the modern art is nothing compared to the rooms. The Chapel of °San Marco°, closed most of the time, is open and we can see some of the ancient mosaics. Coming out, I notice there is a commotion. People are lining the streets and there are police lights flashing. Something is happening.

Looking up the street, we see a procession. People are getting very excited. It is the pope mobile! The pope is standing in his modern chariot, in his red and white garb, waving and smiling. Like any good Italian Catholic (were American Jews mind you) we wave and smile. The crowd is thin enough to see and be seen clearly. I look at him, he looks at me. We smile. There you have it, Darshan with Pope Benedict XVI.

A post as I stop over in Delhi on my way to my Uncle Gerald in Rome:

I was only in Nepal for 6 days but it was lovely. My main host, Nabeen, created a full agenda and I visited almost every important place in the Valley. There is more, but he made sure I hit the majors and had a personal family or friend guiding me the whole time. Today on the way to the airport he said, I forgot to schedule you “alone” time to explor the city yourself ( which is very true!) but then said my visit was simply too short for that!

I saw Swayambunath (spelling wrong) a major Buddhist stupa with Praveen my first day. Praveen has his green card in Canada but is in Kathmandu for his first child’s birth. He had been in Tucson one visit for gem show and stayed with us and knew my mom so it was sweet. In fact, she had done his astrology chart and he said it was all coming to pass. The stupa is on top of a hill and is a great walk/hike that gives you a view of the valley as well as the spiritual value of the stupa and monastery upon it.

The next day I went with Prabina and her friend Prabakar to one of the village schools they are running a program with. It was interesting to see what they are doing- creating programs that bridge the gap between village children, their illiterate parents (in most cases), and teachers. Then we went to “Pattan”- a seperate enclave of the valley that has its own history and series of fascinating shrines.

The next day we went to Nagarkot, a 2 hour drive up from the valley to see the sunset. Something like heading up to Mount Lemmon for you Tucson folks reading, only your backdrop in one direction is the awesome Himalayas. We spent the night and had some good belly laughs. I slept with Nabeens mother who only speaks Newari and we figured out how to communicate in our own way. She has been teaching me some Newari words as well which has been great fun. She howls at the way I pronounce things. It is of course a struggle for the Newari people to keep their language alive. The older folks speak it to each other, the younger ones can speak it to their parents, but speak Nepali to each other, the newest generation only gets what their grandparents give them or pieces from their parents.

The sunrise was not as we would have liked. We got up at 6am to begin watching and continued to 9:30 or so. The sun appeared but it was not clear so the Himalayas were not fully visable- only pieces. Nabeen has this funny sound he makes when he is frustrated and it definitely was being heard. I had a great time trying to catch it, with wonderful company, so I was not disappointed in the least. I think I glimpsed Mount Everest for a moment, 142 kilometers away.

We then headed to “Baktapur” another small enclave like Pattan. It has an entrance fee for tourists but Nabeen was determined to avoid it. He bushwhacked his way to an obscure entrance, told me to lay low, and gunned it past the guards who saw Nepali people rather than tourists. Quite funny, hugh? Baktapur is well organized for tourists so you see wonderful stupas and shrines, some active and some dormant. You see some residents doing their thing but mainly it is geared towards tourists. You feel a bit like you are on a set for “Kathmandu” of yore. They are famous for their curd or yogurt, so we had some. Nabeen and Prabeena found a small shop that sold it, were aghast at the price, talked her down a bit, and we proceeded to enjoy. A sweet soft curd made in earthen ware vessels. It is one of my best food memories so far.

The next day Nireesh took my to Bouddhanath and Pashupati Temple to top off the list of majors. Bouddanath is the biggest stupa in the valley and a world heritage site. It is the central hub of Tibetan Buddhist activity and pilgrimage in Nepal. It is large and again, well organized for the tourist. We spun prayer wheels as we entered, gave acknowledgement to the Buddha’s and deities that mark the entrance, passed our hands over the flame that burns in the front, circumambulated the large structure.

I noticed lots of prayer flags extending from the top point down and wondered if they were placed for people who had died. Nabeen told me earlier that was what they were for when we had seen them atop the tallest tower in Nagarkot.

I asked, via Nireesh who speaks Nepali, how much it was to string my own and the man selling flags told me the price and procedure. It took 10 separate strings of flags, I should write who I was wanting to honor on the flag in marker, and some of the young boys would climb up and attach them. They searched for a marker and I proceeded to assign one string to each person that came to mind.

Foremost in my mind was my mother of course who felt deep love for and found great consolation from the Tibetan tradition, and who dreamt of coming to Kathmandu, but never made it. I spelled out her whole name- Sharon Rose Veronica O’Connor Korshak “Grihananda”. I included other people who died in her lifetime- her whole family (minus Aunt Valerie), my father and his mom Shirley, a few others that came to my mind from my recent past.

They showed me where they would string them and then we watched, payment upon completion. It was one of the highlights of my trip so far, a perfect, natural moment where I realized I had completed something spiritually very significant.

We had chanted the Tibentan Prayer for the Dead for 49 days after she died, her Guru Kriyananda had done the Kriya rituals for her as well, we had a memorial in Tucson, Chicago, and then the release of the ashes into Lake Michigan. But this was the world of her vivid imagination, and I was here at one of its center points, placing the flags with her and others we loved in mind. Now they will wave, disintegrate, and thus scatter their prayers into the atmosphere. Om Mane Padme Hum. May All Beings Be Enlightened.

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I arrived in Nepal Sunday and have been settling into a new but similar country. My Nepalese friends suggested I do India first and it was a good choice as I was ready to appreciate the contrast more.

In short, Nepal is softer than India and cleaner. It is a blend of so much. I had heard that, read that, but being here I see it for real. It is here between India and China- massive countries and powers- and below Tibet. These are just things we use to categorize, but really India is many worlds in and of itself as I suppose China is as Tibet is as parts of Nepal are. Does this make any sense?

What I am trying to say is that I see people who look Tibetan, Chinese, Indian, Nepalese and more. I don’t know what Nepalese is exactly, except for my friends who I have known for 10 years almost. They are Newari to be specific- the native people of the Kathmandu valley. They speak Newari, Nepali, Hindi, and English as well as other languages they may pick up when traveling or interacting with foreigners. They are a blend of Hindu and Buddhist. There are strict Hindus here, probably from Indian origin. There are strict Buddhists here, probably from Tibet. They are definitively both.

Going to the temples and shrines, like India is casual and common place. Perhaps even more so as the shrines are everywhere here- a type of fashion statement put in place by the Malla kings who ruled here over 200 years ago. There are deities I have never heard of, or have heard of but they are slightly altered here. There is a deity or shrine for everything and it is not superstition. All people use these shrines as they move to and from places in a highly chaotic, ancient urban jumble.
People may use a temple regularly- like Prabina, my hostess who goes to the next door Ganesha temple every morning for Puja. Two large, shallow baskets of golden marigolds are on the floor in the kitchen. She buys them in bulk and will use them up day by day for the puja each morning. She sprinkles them with water and keeps them on the roof to keep them fresh.

People may use shrines casually, like Nabin, my host who has walked me around and drove me around in numerous directions- acknowledging some shrines simply through a gesture and chant and others through the lighting of candles and the red mark of a ticka on the forehead. The other night he took me to a white Avaloketishvara shrine that was breathtaking. I can’t describe it in any way to give it justice. The street is crazy, we take a turn off of it towards the temple and it gets quieter, we see her/him from a distance and already he/she glows. The temple has layers that are open that lead you towards the central chamber where the image is sheltered. There are certain steps people take, not always the same to approach the center, once there you can pay a few rupees for “butter light candles” which you light from a burning candle, circle three times clockwise in front of your face and the statue as you perhaps pray, an attendant, not necessarily a priest then takes it and offers it directly to the statue, then returns it to a platter. You then wave your hands over the flame and bring it to your eyes, crown, heart, whatever, and then take a ticka or a few flower petals and leave the front to make way for someone else. In this case the shrine was quite empty and felt very intimate and alive. We may have spun prayer wheels as we circumambulate the central chamber and then reached up to strike a bell as we exited. Then we are back onto the chaotic street in route to something mundane.

A funny side note to this story is as we approached the central chamber, Nabin got a phone call, answered it, stood in front of the shrine and talked for a few moments, then signed off and proceeded. For me this is a big deal, for him it is life, no disrespect to the great Avaloketeshvara.

There is more and more of course- a few more notes and then goodnight.

I have decided that the sound of Asia so far, is a honking horn. That and a man “hacking”- clearing his chest and throat, then spitting up and out what is willing to go. this is sad of course- an indication of modernization/westernization coming too fast for peoples good.

In India and here men are very affectionate with each other. They wrap their arms around each other, interlace arms and hands, stand back to front, I have even seen men standing front to front. these are not gay men, this is the culture.

Dogs have it a bit better here than in India I think.still roaming freely, but not as mangy looking. The fact that our dogs and cats live with us is pretty odd to most of them.

People work really hard here-in India and Nepal, I have taken many pictures of people carrying heavy, heavy loads on their heads or shoulders or backs. they are walking as cars and trucks wiz buy. There must be an easier way, but meanwhile they are strong and do what they need to to get paid or get their materials to market.
To wear a pollution mask is an enlightened thing to do here. Earplugs wouldn’t be a bad idea either. I can enjoy these things for awhile but to live in it would be treacherous. But then again they are strong,right? Right.

Load Setting- I think that is what it is called. Kathmandu areas/zones lose power at scheduled intervals every day. For 45 hours a week total. This means that the power goes out and everyone in that zone must make due for a few hours- 3 or 4. Some people have generators but most either go dark or light candles. Tonight, it goes out as Nabin and I are walking down a busy street. There is a collective gasp. Everyone knows it is coming, but it still is a bit of a shock. Now only the motorbike lights illuminate the street. Again, small generator lamps go on in some shops and candles in most. It is actually quite interesting for me to experience and gives the town a slower and softer quality that I appreciate.

I am slow by nature, but can dodge bikes, rickshaws, motorbikes and cars as well as anyone native. It is a simple matter of survival instinct and no thinking, meditation background helps with that.

I used to not like crowds but now feel fine in them. You become anonymous and yet have your intention to get somewhere. It is like a big video game, virtual reality of sorts. It will feel lonely to be back in the USA with all that space and relative calm and quiet.

Goodnight for now. Blessings, Natasha

 

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It is my last official night in India and I am sad about it. It is truly a strange place, but it makes you want to learn how to be with it.

Today at the Taj Mahal, the driver who has brought me from Delhi- Jeetu, brings me to the West entrance which is less crowded. He goes for breakfast and shows me where to meet him when I am through. He tells me to be aware of the hawkers of course and the “guides”. I walk down the typical chaotic Indian street to the garden area where the hawking begins. I am alone thus more of a target, but I know how to look truly uninterested while not being rude so it is not a big deal. At the Taj, you pay a large sum which includes little booties to cover your feet when you actually enter the building, water, and a “guide” if you choose to use him. It is free- a scary word in India. All in all, it is not to crazy to get in and I am on my way. I let the guide hang around and it does give me some extra value.

He tells me that foreigners pay so much, Indians so little, because the British stripped the Taj of much of its riches so we are paying back. Don’t know if this is fact, did they strip it? But it is funny. He tells me only boys who are decedents of the original crew who built the Taj can guide in this official, government position, don’t know if that is fact or fiction, but it is again interesting. It took 22 years and 20,000 laborers to build. It is perfectly symmetrical. It is indeed a wonder to behold. I did not think I really cared about seeing it, but in fact it was awesome in the true sense of the world. I can see why people flock from all over to see it and find it worthwhile.

The day was perfect weather wise. The crowds are no big deal as the space is massive and has such a precision that you feel like you are floating above the earth just being in the vicinity. The government takes really good care of the operation so it is a peaceful experience. There is “shanti” there they might say in Hindi.

Did I tell you that my name is a Hindi name? No one in South India thought anything of my name as they speak Tamil. But in India everyone has commented, oh- you have a hindi name. I have asked what it means, as most names have a meaning here. Last night the waiter told me it meant “unbeatable” or “invincible”. He knew because his girlfriend is named Natasha. When he saw me name on my order (they do strange things with paperwork here, why would my name be on my food order?), they thought the order was for an Indian person and made the food regular spicy. I could barely eat it, a glimpse of how much they are taming things for us in these tourist enviorns. In truth, I have had no impulse to eat street food or the like as it seems so risky. I have had no stomach problems but indeed see how you would if you were not being directed at crucial junctures.

After my guide experience, very simple, tipped him 50 rupees. I walked around myself and sat and wrote on a bench in the shadow of the taj. A young girl came to talk to me very sweet, practicing her English. Then her sisters and brothers and cousins and parents. Before I knew it they were insisting we take pictures, they tried to get me to come to a wedding they were attending in the afternoon, and gave me an open invitation to Jaipur to stay with them. The people here just amaze me. This is not atypical.
I am behind the desk at the Holiday Inn in Agra. Know the internal feeling of a hotel well from my 13 years at Miraval. I have of course more to say, but will sign off as it is late and tomorrow i begin anew as I journey to Nepal.

Security is tighter of course as I move around. The Taj Mahal we were seriously frisked, the entrance to my hotel has tight security. This is not a Holiday inn like home, quite swank. I have seen more military as they are concerned about Dehli as a target. I feel fine though. Much more likely to get run over by a rickshaw or gored by a bull than taken hostage by terrorists. Blessings and Namaste!

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I arrive at the holy city yesterday morning and it feels truly like a month ago. Not that I know the city, it is a labyrinth. But that you see so much in a short time.
I don’t know if I have told Peter, that my camera batteries (3 of them) all went dead 10 days in. I will have other people’s photos from the group for the last portion of our trek through Tamil Nadu. The last stop a shop keeper leant me his camera as our memory cards matched and he had a charger.

Varanasi is a photographers dream. Everything is worthy of shooting. There is beauty and filth always strung together here, and in photos I am sure it will always look like art. I buy a very cheap camera from a shop and try to take old fashioned photos but it stops working for me, so I have to think of photographing this place in my mind and with words. It is just as well, as everyone wants you to pay them for the privilege of photographing them, even or especially the sadhus, and it also seems to remove me from the fact that I am here, not just for memories sake.

Yesterday, I have a hotel problem upon arrival. Did I mention that when I wrote a month ago? (just kidding). The gist of it was I was booked in a backpackers hotel in the center of the city, where it is most maze like. A sweet old autorickshaw driver came to the railway station form the guest house to pick me up and right away I knew I was in a bit of a pickle. He had no teeth, his rickshaw was barely running. At one point, it would not start and he got very quiet and slumped. I thought the man was having a catatonic episode. I asked him if he was ok and he rose and said “yes mam, I am praying to the lord”. This did not surprise me. People do indeed have so much faith here. And of course the rickshaw came to life and he took me through a harrowing drive through Varanasi towards the hidden guest house. The only reason this place included a pick up is that is the only way anyone could find it.

I was a bit stunned at my situation. I had just traveled from Mahaballipurum to Chennai to Delhi to here. The trains (Delhi to Varanasi), first class, are indeed quite nice in India so that journey 12 hours, was pleasant. I was in a compartment with 3 older, gentile Hindus and they included me in their conversations by speaking English, rather than Hindi, and watching over me. You literally sleep on these trains, the attendants bring bedding and by 10 all of my companions were asleep, in the morning you awake, clean up, go back to sitting formation, have chi, and arrive in Varanasi.

Nonetheless, I was a bit beat and nervous upon arriving in Varanasi and the rickshaw drive and the backpackers hotel was too much for my 40 year old self. So I asked the rickshaw driver to take me to Assi Ghat, the southern most section of the city and designed for those tourists who need some luxury. And now I am staying at the “Palace on the Ganges”. I am literally in the penthouse. A little room on the roof that overlooks the Ganges. I had a large room in the basement last night, very nice but no windows. Today I am the polar opposite, on the roof.

Ok a few thoughts about what I have seen and then I will sign off.

A beautiful gift shop that looks at first like a well-organized shoe box, but has 5 rooms that flow backwards. Each room filled with beautiful items- from clothes, to jewelry, to art, to stationary. You feel swaddled in there, surrounded by pretty handmade things. -an astrological depiction of the business’s fate, given by his gurugi, framed at the entrance for all to see. -stores that have huge futons and pillows, so when you come in you sit and visit. If it looks like a good connection, a young boy is called from the street to get chi or coffee. -The internet cafe/travel agent owner just came and did incense puja and silent mantra recitation in front of the image of a shiva lingum (formless form of shiva shaped well, like a phallus) and then also puja in front of Shiva image and hanuman as well. -I need a tailor; a little boy comes and shows me a card for a tailor. He does not speak, I allow him to guide me wordlessly toward the cards address. He is deaf. We are warned not to follow these boys, but I feel like I can trust him and will go only as far as I feel safe. Everyone along the route knows this boy and I can see their warmth for him. I see the regular people of Varanasi as we walk. We arrive at the tailor shop, it is fine and good. The boy is named Rahul. He is very dear and accepts no money. I see him again today and he takes me a few more places. He makes sure no one cheats me and shows me how things are done at various junctures. I wonder how it must be to live and breathe in this chaotic place and have it be silent.

There is so much more but I should post. I walked the river today, from the south ghat (steps) to perhaps the midway point and saw things that were truly amazing. People all swimming in the Ganges like they are at the beach. Laundry being done in the Ganges and spread out on the steps, how has it come clean, cows, bulls, goats, dogs roaming. Men making cow paddies right below a lovely cafe. little shrines along the way, a very important temple, I sit and listen to live “bhajans” or chanting. A sadhu tells me to sit next to him. At this ghat I go, at the insistence of some little kids to the water and touch my fingers in- move them to my head, third eye, heart. People being burning, funerals going on, but I can’t really see that, the funerals, just the burning. In the end a young man tells me, a mans chest will usually remain as it is the densest bone and a woman’s pelvis. It does not seem morbid or gross. The garbage and filth from living humans is much worse than this.

All for now, love from here, Natasha

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