Uttarakhand Solo Journal 2: Communities and Connections

It rained almost the whole of third day. Not wild like a torrent but more musical and drizzling. Water drops all around, ones stringing down the slanted roof, those lining outside and few trickling around the balcony. The forest was washed away of the dust and the smell that arose was more earthy. It was chilly and I sat on the balcony wearing my cardigan. It was hard to take my eyes off of this view, trying to spot the Himalayan peaks behind the clearing haze.

How quickly the weather changes in the mountains, next two days were bright and sunny. I caught up with other folks living in neighboring cottages (there are 4-5 in total around here), most of them are the Doctors associated with Aarohi including Himanshu, a young doctor, dedicating his service to the community. His guitar notes float off in the air in the evening and provide a perfect backdrop to the forest. He is practicing well and the notes are melodious – which is all a music illiterate like me can say. Jamaal lives close by and runs the dairy here. Yes, they have cows and fresh milk. An Iranian couple lives in the big white cottage that I just love looking at. They help the Rama Chandra Mission ashram in Satkhol and their children are adorable. Overall, there are 3 cats, 3 dogs and 2-3 cows. Cats and dogs visit me frequently with Appu (the fatter red cat) often sneaking off to my cane chair in the balcony. The people were kind enough to supply me with missing grocery items, inviting for green tea and asking for my well being.

My stay here makes me muse over the social connections between the people living in villages, and forests in this area of Uttarakhand. After all, human beings need society and companionship. There is as much solitude as you can handle in this place but closer knitted community as well. People help each other with open arms, share their resources and celebrations. How in this remote part of the hill, can someone build a life is a question worth pondering upon. It is a testament to the human will. Looking at the families here, I can say that real communities grown with a common vision and brotherhood can be quite wonderful. It is all about having a sense of belonging and shared purpose. Closer proximity to the nature and such deep human connection can make up for the loss of convenience or facilities that are available in cities. I would say the urban neighbors living next doors might seem more disconnected and lonely in comparison.

Another must-mention couple is Ashish-Deepa who run the more famous HimalayanVillage homestay in Sonapani. Visiting them for lunch one day (a good break to my fried rice, noodles, soup and sandwich meals), I heard their story. They were also tired of fast life in Delhi and wanted to come back closer to their hometowns. That they managed to create such a nice place to stay and run it at their terms has been a fifteen year journey. They looked happy and I did not need to ask how has this transition been. They raised two young kids here (one born here only), so all of us who keep looking for sophisticated international boards for our children and use it as an excuse for our tiring lifestyles, we might have to think of a new excuse next time. And those looking for more reasons, a study pointed out that nature makes you live longer.

Anyway, I don’t think the place changes anyone, it is likely to attract those who anyway wanted to pursue an offbeat track in the first place. So, such hamlets have become a congregation of people treading these alternate lifestyles. They are proving that living like this is sustainable which, if nothing else, is heartening to know 🙂

Uttarakhand Solo Journal 1: A Night in Jungle

It was 3 pm at Aarohi office in Satoli, Uttarakhand. It is a NGO office run by Dr. Sushil Kumar. Dhanram picked up my suitcase and I followed suit with a heavy backpack on my shoulders and two grocery bags in my hands. I had booked one week solo stay at Sukoon, a cottage run by Dr. Sushil himself. The idea was to have a quiet place to work on my book and the AirBnB reviews had mentioned ‘go only if you are looking for solitude and wilderness’. I was to soon find out how literally true that was!

I thought it would be a 5-10 minute walk to the cottage but hold on, we had been climbing steep up the hill for 15 minutes and I was huffing and puffing already. ‘Aur kitna dur hai bhaiya?’ ‘Bas thoda aur’. After hearing the same answer everytime, I was now annoyed. The bag was killing me and I could only marvel at the petite but sturdy frame of Dhanram who by the way was also leading a big black furry dog. I decided to sit down for a minute before we started our second leg of the trek. ‘Iska naam kya hai?’ I ask. Dhanram who refuses to let any expression come to his face and is gracefully and superhumanly carrying the luggage replies, ‘Maanshu’. At least that’s what I heard. I frown what kind of a name that is and why would anyone name a dog Himanshu.

We now climb up to a more flatter part of the hill and another fifteen minutes brought us to the first house in sight which looked awesome. Two other dogs came running and I somehow managed to suppress my screams. Then another cottage and then a brown one standing by itself came into view. Dhanram climbed the stairs of this earthy cottage and a fifteen-minute search for the key began. I tried calling Dr. Sushil but the network was weak at his and my end. I settled down on the stone staircase and took out my Kindle. It is better to read than getting irritated over something I cannot control. Dhanram finally managed to find the key and I eagerly entered in the cottage to crash down. I had taken the top room of this cottage and it had a small but cute kitchen and bathroom attached to it. Sukoon is such an apt name for this place.

Lying on the mattress, I saw a small glass opening in the wooden roof. If the trek had made me want to cry, this place gave me a tremendous sense of wonder. I am really in a place that so few people can manage in life (more than financially, due to lack of time and will). I am in middle of the jungle with only trees, birds and insect sounds. After resting, I check out the balcony and god, is it beautiful or what! A chair and folding up table served my purpose perfectly. I settled down with my laptop – the book work needs to begin. With a very tiring internet connection, I crave for coffee now only to find that the gas pipe is broken! Alas, more test for my patience.

In the evening, Dr. Sushil comes since his cottage is next to mine. He fixes up the pipe and graciously lets me pick few vegetables from his fridge. As I am leaving, he asks me, ‘Do you like avocados?’ ‘I love avocados! I never find them in Indore.’ He gives me a ripe one, plucked from his own tree. Yes, this place has avocados trees growing. On my way out, he tells me, ‘this is my dog Doraemon. You will see him around.’ Yes, it is the same black husky dog. I take a deep breath and smile. I make coffee, soup and avocado sandwich for dinner.

I have a week to stay at this place. It is very solitary but made of dreams. The mud wall and stones, wood and forest foliage seem so alien to my urban hands. I can see why Dr. Sushil left behind his urban medical career to settle down here. I don’t know if I can live here forever but there is a pull in these trees and earth. I admit I’m a bit scared but I’m also feeling more alive. One who has seen the starry sky in a pitch dark jungle refuses to believe that possibilities are limited and that suffering be the end of life. We are human beings and not human doings. If we forget how to ‘be’, it would be meaningless to ‘do’.

PS. If you are planning a family vacation in Uttarakhand and need help, do contact Ventilator Village by clicking here. They helped plan a trip for my parents and uncles and everyone was raving about them afterward.

The scary ride called 2016

I possibly could not have envisioned 2016 to unfold the way it did – meandering in its complexity, perplexing me with difficult shots to call, alarming me with fears that I had been nursing but, in the end, mirroring the courage with which I have aways hit back when going gets tough. It has been the culmination of all that I have aspired to through a toiling journey inwards. Oh, and it has been hell at times. Believe me.

This entry is more for me, because face it, you don’t know me. You don’t even know yourself, do you? And if you are smiling at this statement that I have made, perhaps you know what I am talking about. Do you ask yourself what are you afraid of? Have you introspected why you made certain decisions? We don’t normally because we are not required to. Unless the pain cracks you open. The inner unhappiness becomes too loud to ignore. And once you start heeding your inner voices, they show you the mess you are carrying inside. But, as the veil lifts from this mess, you eventually get to be aware. And that awareness is enough. That is where the light starts. This light will guide you to your own golden place. It is like a secret chamber made just for you. Your chamber might look very different from mine. That peace and silence are yours to find.

Now, I can write a fluff blog describing the hundreds of travels I did (and I can show off!) and some success stories. I can boast of what an amazing year it has been. But I don’t want to. I want to share the real joy I have found which has nothing to do directly with partying on the beautiful white sand beaches in Koh, Thailand (I did that), floating on a houseboat in Kashmir (I did), seeing the night fall over Udaipur palace (yep), chanting at 5 am dawn fire in Auroville (seriously beautiful), meeting a fascinating teacher and inspiring people in the hills of Himachal (I did), going crazy in Bali (did, did), roaming around Singapore (yep), or taking a family trip back to our ancestral home in Panna. Ok yes, little enviable details do help! But in a way, all these did put me in situations which kept my inner journey on. It is less about where you are than who you are and what you see.

  • Solo trips told me that I had settled in my comfort zones and it was awkward opening my heart to strangers and experiences. I pushed and these strangers turned into lifetime friends and mentors.
  • They taught me to be comfortable in my skin, in my beliefs, not succumb to live someone else’s life. I shared my voice more fearlessly and got some articles published on leading places such as Entrepreneur, DailyO, Tribune, DNA, EduTimes etc. Frankly, I could never have imagined this a year ago.
  • I realized I had been taking things and people for granted. Some books changed my perspective and perhaps transformed me for life (esp Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC books). The joy came through reconnecting to age old friends or cousins, or even your own parents. I noticed that I started listening more, feeling more what the other person is saying and going through. A strange feeling of ‘oneness’ took over. I realized that you cannot love one person unless you love everyone. There is no special love. I find empathy to be a much better word than love these days.
  • I smile more often because I appreciate what I have. Such a horribly cliched sentence but it is what it is.
  • And I got a tattoo which read ‘no fear’ in April. The moment I saw the design, I knew it was the one. Little did I know that I was about to witness it so closely in the months to come.

Sorry, it is all too much in the surface but the fact is my experience is mine and you cannot learn from it. Just like you cannot learn swimming by watching YouTube (yep, I tried!), you cannot grow from my journey. You have to find your own. And the first step is to look inwards, know yourself and help yourself in conquering the fears you have harbored, work towards the happiness you seek and eliminate the causes of pain. Ha! How simple. I wish it was.

Now, let me see – did I fulfill any resolution from year before? I think I was wise enough to not make resolutions but I did expect that I would create some voodoo magic in my business – I did not. It grew and I got loving students and that is happier than if had I scaled crazily compromising on the experience I was creating (sour grapes?). I did not attain some unbelievable success. I am still an unknown writer and entrepreneur. But I think it’s okay. I mean I am fine with it. I feel more complete than I have ever before.

So that is what 2016 was for me. It was a fire that transformed, a bitter pill that had to be taken to come out of the coma, a splash of cold water on your face early in the morning, a point of no return.

One advice – have faith.

One lesson learned – all that matters is your growth. Anything that will keep you away from your growth will make you miserable. Find it, change it – keep growing. There is no substitute for inner growth.

Stop going nuts over social media. Marilyn Monroe died of drugs and people quote her on self-help matters. Thank you very much, I am fine on my own. Find out for yourself, everything out there is a marketing message. Read real books. Talk to real people.

As Mark Manson says, stop giving a f*** about stupid things in life. Go, live. Do.

Fog is out there. Truth is out there. Discern.

Bali Diary 6: Accomplish and Celebrate

Ok, I admit I’m somewhat of a workaholic. Whenever I get stuff done (the slang is get shit done!), I feel awesome and then I get more stuff done. My projects are coming together naturally as I surround myself with other interesting people – we have marketing geniuses, content writers, film makers, app developers here at Hubud. Monday to Wednesdays have been super productive and then we have our social time on Thursday lunches and Friday excursions.

On my third Saturday, I attended the energetic Invasion pool party (there is no dearth of these in Ubud) in the picturesque Bali Resort. I spent the Sunday relaxing on Sanur beach with Colleen. And I got the Balinese massage which was fantastic. Bali is all about healing, massages and spa. I had not planned any tourist activities in Bali and have let things happen on their own. I think there are better beaches to explore in Bali, perhaps some other time.

Invasion Party, Ubud
Invasion Party, Ubud

Sanur Beach

Fourth week of working hard resulted in my coming up with strategic decisions for next season of SS. I also managed to publish the divorce article that I have been holding for too long now on DailyO. It seemed fitting that I post it from here where I have felt most myself.  Our third Tribe lunch was at the permaculture center, Moksa Cafe where all the ingredients are grown fresh. We had most amazing organic coco drink and rice bowl. Oh and the bamboo straw was so cute! The rice fields surrounding the restaurant called for a lovely walk. For my last Friday here, I headed to the beautiful Tjampuhan Spa where Amber even tried to give me some swim lessons! This, by the way, is a very beautiful place. The hot water pool is enclosed in carved rock caves overlooking the jungle and the river. I love how Balinese preserve their greenery.

Rice fields behind Moksa Cafe
Rice fields behind Moksa Cafe

Organic food at Moksa Cafe, Ubud
Organic food at Moksa Cafe, Ubud

Tjampuhan Spa, Ubud

I spent a very soulful last weekend with Ash when we headed to the Holy Water TemplePura Tirta Empul. I had been wanting to go there ever since I landed, thanks to Ash for pushing me to go there finally.Bali offers some very beautiful temples and this is more than a 1000 years old now. The fresh water comes from the spring in the temple and thousands of visitors bathe in it. I and Ash took turns to bathe under the designated spouts. Definitely, an experience I would remember. I do not see any prominent statues inside Balinese temples although there are lot of carved figures outside. We also visited the stone temple next to this one that featured gigantic rock with faint carvings but were at a loss to understand its significance. On Sunday, we walked around the famous Monkey Forest in the center of Ubud. Balinese monkeys look slightly different than Indian monkeys but compete well in terms of mischief and chaos. Many a times, they would jump on the roof and garden at Hubud, making for amusing scenes.

bathing at Holy Water Temple Bali
bathing at Holy Water Temple Bali

Holy Water Temple Bali
Holy Water Temple Bali

Monkey Forest, Ubud
Monkey Forest, Ubud

Last week went by quick with a merry happy hour at Watercress with Ash and Aline and a closing lunch at Laura’s place. Her daughter cooked for us and that to me was very sweet 🙂 Laura’s home was again very beautiful with a garden and sunbathed pool. She served us some traditional Russian equivalent of potato filled tortellini and salad. We ended with fruits, honey and spicy tea. In this last lunch together, I had a lot to acknowledge. After all, Bali has given me so much.

Happy Hours at Ubud
Happy Hours at Ubud

The reason we all are able to spend good time celebrating is the fact that we are getting so much done. When you are productive, you feel happy. It has nothing to do with how much time you have. It is all about how you spend whatever time you have. Ever since I started working, I had felt a need to maintain a very healthy work life balance that gives me time for myself. But although I now get a lot of time for myself, I often squandered it away in India. As a result, I was neither productive nor enjoying as much as I should. This month at Hubud has shown me the promise of ‘work hard, celebrate harder’.

My first innings at Bali came to an end. I had come distraught but am leaving with a smile. I am heading off to Singapore now. This is not the end.

And, here are the previous posts in Bali Diary:

Bali Diary 5: Connecting Meaningfully

Another week started with our Tribe meetings where I committed to continue working on first draft of my book and come up with online courses for Scholar Strategy (SS). Of late, I know that I can do more justice with SS but have always felt a resistance within towards doing videos, which is, of course, stupid. From the students feedbacks, I know that they are benefitting a lot with what we are offering and online course is a means to reach out to many more students than I personally can. As always, Tribe came to rescue. I did a brainstorming session with Ash, Fiona, Colleen and Laura and asked for help! From that came out some concrete ideas on what exactly should I focus and immediate next steps. It was magical. As a solo working entrepreneur, sometimes it becomes difficult to strategize and focus. Tribewanted has been an amazing help on that. Colleen gave me a challenge of creating a video this week which I accepted and executed successfully.

One thing I am noticing is ever since I have started putting myself out there, approaching people, I am already feeling people reaching out to me, opening up to me. There’s another game that Colleen made us play as a part of her Emotional Intelligence session – we all had to come up with 3 qualities that we value and want to be associated with us. And then, define a tagline for our ‘games’. I came up with – wise, empathetic and genuine. I am calling my game – ‘Creating my Magic’ which is tad bit inspired from Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic that I am currently reading. Now, you need to ask yourself whenever you take any action and make a decision – does it adhere to these qualities? Does it take you further along in your game or not? This will make you do things that you truly value and stay away from hopeless pursuits. Weirdly, all of us started noticing how we were actually being associated with these qualities. For e.g. Someone actually called me ‘genuine’ the other day casually in a conversation and this person has no knowledge about my exercise with Colleen. Ash witnessed it too when someone called her inspiring the other day. This stuff is powerful! Try it sometime.

Goya Resort Bali
Goya Resort Bali

I caught up my first Tribewanted group lunch this Thursday at the gorgeous Goya Resort. It is located with the pool and restaurant view of the jungle. While we grabbed some chilled drinks and delicious falafel wraps, we took a moment to acknowledge the good stuff we have been up to and appreciate everyone’s efforts in their own journeys.

Now, let me come to the real stuff. As I talked to more people, sharing my problems and statuses, Amber told me that she can help me with online courses. And then, she actually sat down with me and gave me ton of useful advice and help me structure things. For me, that is more valuable than any paid advice. It made me realize that we are probably surrounded by incredible people all the time, we just don’t take time to ask for help or talk to them. It, of course, works both ways. Take some, pass it on, give back – engage, connect with people for god’s sake. I have been so bad at this stuff that it is a whole new world to me. But the ride is starting beautifully. I encourage you to let go of your tiny voices that hold you back. Connect in meaningful ways – not with an intention of getting something back. Put your problems out there, let the universe come back to you with solutions. I got plenty of great advice from Amber and Derek this week. So thankful to them! You can do this too even if you are an introvert. Good intentions and energies are not a prerogative of extroverts you know. Just be receptive 🙂

Tribewanted Bali
Tribewanted Bali

PS. No wonder I love Amber so much. She has an awesome blog called Climb Out of the Cubicle where she tells her story of leaving a boring government job to travel the world.