Reunited in Rishikesh

INDIA-

They say that 'India' stands for "I'd Never Do It Again", however I couldn't disagree more. I practically fell madly in love with this majestic land as soon as I stepped off the plane. I mean coming from a very large (and slightly nuts) Greek family, you kinda have to learn to embrace the chaos and craziness from a young age, which is why India certainly felt quite like home. India is definitely not for the faint hearted, and if you have a problem with or fear of germs/lack of hygiene.. Warning: DO NOT COME HERE (you will be immediately freaked out by the squat toilets and a usual lack of toilet paper). 

 Street cows of India.  

Street cows of India.  

 Seeing cows EVERYWHERE (including unusual places) will become the norm. 

Seeing cows EVERYWHERE (including unusual places) will become the norm. 

 This little fella found some comfort on a pile of dirt. 

This little fella found some comfort on a pile of dirt. 

 Get lost in the raw everyday beauty. 

Get lost in the raw everyday beauty. 

 Just a dog chilling on a motorcycle. 

Just a dog chilling on a motorcycle. 

 Caught out.  

Caught out.  

I think it's fair to say that India will wrench your heart out and reduce all of your 'first world problems' to crumbs not even worth sweeping up. Especially when you become a witness to the realities of how people actually live, and the struggles that they bravely face on a daily basis. It will seriously knock you out of your comfort zone and you're either going to love it or hate it. If you haven't already of guessed, it's safe to say that I loved it.

 My momma and a local Indian family wearing beautiful bright colours.  

My momma and a local Indian family wearing beautiful bright colours.  

I actually got told that I was an Indian yogi in a previous life, and I was drawn back to India to relearn yoga (as a westerner), as a part of my soul's journey. Perhaps this is to contribute towards spreading yoga to the west, in order to save humanity through fusing the best of the Eastern and Western values together (for example, the West's innovations in technology and traditional Eastern moral standards, such as non violence etc). However despite yoga spreading to the west, we’ve tended to focus upon viewing yoga as a superficial tool to tone our bodies, rather than understanding the complexities of yoga as a tool/pathway for enlightenment. 

 Mother and baby sharing a piece of stolen melon.  

Mother and baby sharing a piece of stolen melon.  

 I love this adorable baby monkey climbing up the ladder to his mummy. 

I love this adorable baby monkey climbing up the ladder to his mummy. 

That's one of the things that I've seriously taken on board since being in India, is not to be so bloody obsessed with this meat suit that we're wearing here on our time on Earth. I mean yes, it is very important to look after the body, in order to ensure that it carries us gracefully through to old age (without acquiring too many health problems along the way). But do we have to be SO obsessed with it's appearance ALL THE TIME!? I'm not saying I don't like to look good because who doesn't, but do we really have to let how we look (or how we think we look) affect our emotional well-being so often? "I've put on so much weight (I therefore no longer value myself as a human being). So and so is better than me". Is this seriously a rational conclusion that we so commonly draw as an appearance obsessed society?

 Trinklets. 

Trinklets. 

 A beautiful afternoon are Mother Ganga

A beautiful afternoon are Mother Ganga

As if to think that our appearance is more important than our actual worth as a human being? Well anyway, since being in India I've recognised that the people here have far too much to be worried about than stressing over petty vanity ("Does my outfit match, is my hair greasy, does my figure look good in this piece of clothing" etc). This has helped me to turn my attention inwards and to no longer give a f**k if I get a spot or two (it's not like they're going to last forever anyway), and who cares if I put on a few pounds here or there (weight comes and goes and doesn't define who I am as a person. Weight is simply in fact our relativity to gravity (in other words: WHO CARES!?). I don't care how much you weigh, you don't care how much I weigh...yet why do we allow such an abstract force to dominant our lives?

 Man, son and cow.  

Man, son and cow.  

 The cheeky monkeys often steal food (such as popcorn) from the street vendors. 

The cheeky monkeys often steal food (such as popcorn) from the street vendors. 

So anyway, these feelings led me to look at the daily impact that “tools” like social media and Instagram were indefinitely having on me. After scrolling through my Insta feed, I came to notice that every other photo was some fitness chick, posing with her ripened abs and enormous glutes. I thought wow, flashback from the past. That was me a few years ago when doing my fitness competitions (having being motivated to compete due to graduating from a sport and exercise nutritional advisor diploma, and wanting to prove I knew my stuff).  Despite my some what positive intentions, I was still well and truly immersed in that judgmental world of how the body looks compared to someone else's.

 A photo from my show day, where success was defined as being physically in better shape than the opposition. This just sounds SO ridiculous to me now, and I’m so glad that I quickly broke out of that world and went travelling instead (to later become a yoga teacher and live in a van without even looking in a mirror for the majority of the time). 

A photo from my show day, where success was defined as being physically in better shape than the opposition. This just sounds SO ridiculous to me now, and I’m so glad that I quickly broke out of that world and went travelling instead (to later become a yoga teacher and live in a van without even looking in a mirror for the majority of the time). 

So anyway, when I scroll through my Instagram and come across such pictures, I instantly become focused on how my body looks and have the thoughts "Oh, I should probably workout harder today". But then I come to realise how ridiculous it is, that looking at a (most likely heavily edited) photo of someone can suddenly draw me to be so conscious and critical of my own body. So anyway, to make a long winded point, I unfollowed most of the fitness chicks (unless they were vegan-I'm slightly biased and have a lot more respect there), and began following more of the accounts that inspired me (more travel, nature, spiritual and yoga accounts).

 Now my feed is filled with more inspiring and meaningful posts (taken from @earth.of.life)

Now my feed is filled with more inspiring and meaningful posts (taken from @earth.of.life)

 How can you not smile when you come across photos like these (taken from @spirits.of.life). 

How can you not smile when you come across photos like these (taken from @spirits.of.life). 

 Now I have a desire for travel more than a desire to simply look good 24/7 (taken from @spirits.of.life -one of my favourite Insta accounts) 

Now I have a desire for travel more than a desire to simply look good 24/7 (taken from @spirits.of.life -one of my favourite Insta accounts) 

Now every time I look at my feed, I feel inspired. It's filled with positive quotes, beautiful landscapes from all over the world, beautiful animals and places. Now that's how it should make me feel, not left questioning myself worth. Before I move on with my experiences of my final weeks in India, I would recommend everyone to turn off their instagram, facebook and any other social media notifications on your phone. This way, you have more control over your use of these apps, rather than these apps having more control over you (by pulling you directly out of the moment and distracting you with the inescapable need to check your notifications or check how many likes you received on your latest pic). 

 Sunsets over The Ganges

Sunsets over The Ganges

 The most beautifully coloured water below Laxman Jhula bridge.  

The most beautifully coloured water below Laxman Jhula bridge.  

 Mother and daughter street dogs relaxing together.  

Mother and daughter street dogs relaxing together.  

 Even the street dogs get bindis here.  

Even the street dogs get bindis here.  

Reunited with Momma Bear-

I had already been in India for six joyous weeks (completing my yoga instructor course) before my Mum was due to arrive. It had been a total of 18 long months since we had last seen each other upon my departure of the UK (to begin my six months of travels and a year living in Australia). Words can't describe how excited I was to FINALLY be able to spend time with her; especially as we've always been super close (with a relationship more like sisters than a mother-daughter dynamic.

 Even from a young age, we’ve always been so close and best friends. 

Even from a young age, we’ve always been so close and best friends. 

Update: since writing this part of the blog, my mum went to see an astrologist in India when I got back to Australia, and he told her that we were sisters in past lives-how funny). But anyway, despite our unique relationship dynamic (where I tend to be the one telling her what to do and worrying about her), it was so magical to be back in her arms at last. And I can honestly say that it felt like no time had past at all (which is a sign of true unconditional love I would say); Not to mention, whilst I've been away for all of this time, we talk on the phone at least every other day, which certainly keeps us in the loop of each others lives.

 So happy to be back in my Momma bears arms (nice and cosy in a restaurant if you would believe). 

So happy to be back in my Momma bears arms (nice and cosy in a restaurant if you would believe). 

 Everyone kept asking if we were sisters, well in a previous life.. apparently yes!  

Everyone kept asking if we were sisters, well in a previous life.. apparently yes!  

 My mum treated us both to a few spa day sessions with amazing massages-a huge contrast from the van life! 

My mum treated us both to a few spa day sessions with amazing massages-a huge contrast from the van life! 

We spent the first couple of days together exploring the streets of Rishikesh (in other words, me showing her all of the best cafes to hang out, like Shambala and Tat Cafe near Luxman Jhula bridge). I think my mum was also pretty quick to recognise that, despite all of the chaos, traffic and low living standards, India is an undeniably special place. Especially Rishikesh (located in the foothills of the Himalaya's), which is regarded as spiritually significant and consistently attracts many spiritual seekers from all across the globe. 

 The man in the shop clearly not impressed with my mums sound bowl skills! 

The man in the shop clearly not impressed with my mums sound bowl skills! 

 Fresh juice and oats for breaky for less than £2.50

Fresh juice and oats for breaky for less than £2.50

 The amazing avo salads they do at Shambala Cafe. 

The amazing avo salads they do at Shambala Cafe. 

 An insane veggie stack with VEGAN cheese at The Beetles Cafe.  

An insane veggie stack with VEGAN cheese at The Beetles Cafe.  

The first week that my mum and I spent together, consisted of taking an intensive course in Ayurveda massage, at the Ayuskama Ayurveda Institute in Rishikesh. This was super interesting, as I've always loved to give and receive massages (being a very kinesthetic person by nature). Throughout the course we covered massage for the entire body (including head and face), which will certainly come in useful with my yoga and Reiki. It was great to do the course with my mum (as she is also a Reiki 2 practitioner), and it was hilarious when the course instructor began referring to my mum as 'Mommaji' (Ji being used as a term for respect). Actually as a matter of fact, anywhere we went together (be it shop, restaurant or back to our hotel), everyone simply referred to my mum as 'Momma' and therefore hardly anyone got to learn her real name (Michelle).

 Certified Ayurveda masseuse. 

Certified Ayurveda masseuse. 

 Another useful skill to add to the box.  

Another useful skill to add to the box.  

 Celebrating our course at a beautiful cafe near the Ganges.  

Celebrating our course at a beautiful cafe near the Ganges.  

 Another one of our favourite hangouts.  

Another one of our favourite hangouts.  

 Expending the Ayurveda version of a steam room where the head is kept out of the steam (this was AMAZING).  

Expending the Ayurveda version of a steam room where the head is kept out of the steam (this was AMAZING).  

During our time in Rishikesh, we stayed at the hotel/school (Leisure Palace), where I completed my 200hr yoga teacher training. Everyone at the hotel was extremely accommodating, and would consistently go out of their way to make our stay as enjoyable as possible (they even came with me to pick my mum up from the airport without charging me). Another reason why it was a great place to stay, was because the new batch of people had arrived for the next yoga teacher training course (who were all seriously amazing people). It was a much larger group than my previous course (where there was only three of us in total), so the energy was completely different at the school, with the dining room filled to the brim, rather than three of us sat around a very long, lonely table.

 Getting cosy at Shambala Cafe where it’s more than acceptable to lay down and read a book. 

Getting cosy at Shambala Cafe where it’s more than acceptable to lay down and read a book. 

 Enjoying India life to the brim. 

Enjoying India life to the brim. 

 One of the many delicious meals we had out.  

One of the many delicious meals we had out.  

My mum and I spent a fair bit of time with the new group from the course, as we attended the weekly outings that the school takes everyone on. Although I had already visited the outings from my previous course, it was still fun to tag along and gain whole new experiences: such as taking a dip in the holy-yet-ice-cold Ganga River-not to mention my mum and I hitch hiking our way back to the hotel (because we were too hungry to wait 30 minutes for the taxi). And of course it was my mum's idea to hitch hike, and also her idea (to my reluctance) a few days later, to hitch a ride on the back of someones motor bike because she couldn't be bothered to walk. (It really is the case that she's the one who acts 22, and I'm the one who acts like a 50 year old). 

 Everyone enjoying a dip in the freezing cold holy water! 

Everyone enjoying a dip in the freezing cold holy water! 

 Ladies that lunch! It was so nice to spend time with everyone from the course, each with their own amazing life stories to tell.  

Ladies that lunch! It was so nice to spend time with everyone from the course, each with their own amazing life stories to tell.  

 Just a monkey eating a (presumably) stolen ice-lolly.  

Just a monkey eating a (presumably) stolen ice-lolly.  

 One thing I definitely loved about Rishikesh: SO MANT VEGAN OPTIONS! 

One thing I definitely loved about Rishikesh: SO MANT VEGAN OPTIONS! 

 Avocado & coconut milk smoothie.  

Avocado & coconut milk smoothie.  

 Momma bear and I enjoying an afternoon on a rooftop. 

Momma bear and I enjoying an afternoon on a rooftop. 

During our time spent hanging out with the new group, we were privileged enough to gain a peak of insight into everyone's life story and what initially drew them to India. It's always a treat to experience the sheer diversity which each individual brings to the table, especially with their unique backgrounds, nationalities, languages and past experiences. From ex drug dealers, runway models, psychologists, world travellers, spiritual seekers, business women to martial artists, there was a whole bunch of contrast bursting from the seams, yet simultaneously all tied together by one commonality: Yoga. I think that this just goes to show that no matter who you are, where you come from or what your life experiences and journey have been on so far, yoga is always a pathway which is open for you to follow (no matter what depths of darkness you may have experienced in life).

 En route to exploring Rishikesh.  

En route to exploring Rishikesh.  

 Momma taking a nap next to the Ganges

Momma taking a nap next to the Ganges

 Beach cows! Who would have thought?

Beach cows! Who would have thought?

Realisations in Rishikesh-

Since spending precious time in Rishikesh, I have come to realise the importance of giving and being of service to others. Whether that be feeding as many street cows and dogs as possible, offering food and necessities to the homeless, helping an elderly lady walk down some steep steps or simply offering your time and hand to someone who needs help with a tedious task; Giving to others (without expecting or giving for anything in return) is essential. Not only does this help us to divert the attention from our ego-encapsulated lives, it also helps us to develop compassion and a sense of purpose in life. 

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”  (Charles Dickens)                                       
 Mother and baby. 

Mother and baby. 

I have been immersed in what is referred to in yoga as: Svadhyaya (study of the self and the scriptures). Thanks to my cherished earthly possession of my kindle, I am able to swiftly switch between reading a number of different books (depending on whether I'm in the mood for study or spiritual entertainment). I have lately been focusing on Patanjali's Yoga Sutra's (the core principles of Yoga), Autobiography of a Yogi (how yoga was brought to the west) and Commentaries of the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred text in the Hindu tradition). 

 The Mother cow watching me carefully interact with her young. 

The Mother cow watching me carefully interact with her young. 

 I don’t think there’s anything much cuter than this precious calf. 

I don’t think there’s anything much cuter than this precious calf. 

In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna states the importance of selfless service (also referred to as Karma Yoga). Karma Yoga is the act of helping others without expecting or desiring anything in return. Krishna even goes onto state that those who do expect something in return for their service, are in fact worse than those who do not help others at all. This is a really interesting point as it makes you wonder how many people are out their “helping others”, often only to gain something for themselves. It’s also made me reflect upon my own actions to realise where I could be helping more (without ego or desire involved).

 After caring for the cows on a daily basis, my mum has since gone vegetarian due to her time in India. 

After caring for the cows on a daily basis, my mum has since gone vegetarian due to her time in India. 

 I love the position this little calf is laying in!

I love the position this little calf is laying in!

 I love the light flooding down the street in this shot here with the Baba’s peacefully sat on the streets.  

I love the light flooding down the street in this shot here with the Baba’s peacefully sat on the streets.  

 I know you can’t talk, but I feel your emotions. I feel that you want to live and be loved.  

I know you can’t talk, but I feel your emotions. I feel that you want to live and be loved.  

 We both fell in love with the street cows and would try and feed them whenever possible.  

We both fell in love with the street cows and would try and feed them whenever possible.  

For example, I tend to catch myself now (or my ego), when I don’t want to do certain things because I don’t really have to. Cleaning other people’s dishes for example. Previously I would avoid the act at every cost, however now I approach it as “what are the small things I can do to make someone else’s day a little easier”. So sometimes taking small actions throughout the day, such as washing up someone else’s plates or helping to unpack with the groceries can add up to create a very meaningful experience for the other person. Perhaps they may feel more valued and appreciated, which is something they may not be receiving from loved ones at home. Moral of the story is, a bit of karma yoga can go a long way and you never know who’s life you’re going to change. 

 The most adorable little puppy at Tat Cafe.  

The most adorable little puppy at Tat Cafe.  

 Too cute for words!

Too cute for words!

 My yogi friend ‘Shiva’ (also a travel blogger) from the US. 

My yogi friend ‘Shiva’ (also a travel blogger) from the US. 

 A delicious egg plant curry from Tat Cafe. 

A delicious egg plant curry from Tat Cafe. 

Authentic Experiences- 

Is it really worth the visit to India, if you’re not going to learn how to cook a few of the local dishes? I was lucky enough to stumble across a local Indian lady, Rajnee, who happened to offer authentic home cooking lessons for tourists. We decided on a few (vegan) dishes that we wanted to learn to cook (dal-staple dish in India, vegetable biriyani, kofta balls and a coconut curry), and we were soon invited over. Rajnee had one of the posher houses in the area, located right near the Luxman Jhula markets (great location). However despite this, her home provided just one measly bedroom (despite having a husband and three children), and a kitchen just about big enough to squeeze the three of us in. This quietly made me reflect on how blessed I have been throughout my life. 

 This tiny space is the whole kitchen, yet we still managed to make such an amazing food at Rajnee’s!

This tiny space is the whole kitchen, yet we still managed to make such an amazing food at Rajnee’s!

Within no time we were cooking up a storm with all of the traditional Indian spices, including turmeric, chilli, garlic and garam masala. What a treat it was to learn first hand, from a lady who has been cooking up delicious Indian meals for most of her life. I have no words to describe how delicious the food tasted, it’s simply something one has to fully experience with their own taste buds. I seriously can’t wait to try out my newly aquired Indian culinary skills back home (the van that my boyfriend, Henrik, and I live in)

 The final dishes served up on a tin platter. 

The final dishes served up on a tin platter. 

 *Update* since writing and editing this blog I have since been back in Auz living in our van, where I cooked up the delicious daal which Rajnee taught me! 

*Update* since writing and editing this blog I have since been back in Auz living in our van, where I cooked up the delicious daal which Rajnee taught me! 

 Enjoying Rishikesh being an alcohol free city. 

Enjoying Rishikesh being an alcohol free city. 

Asides from the mouth watering food, India also boasts an inconceivable amount of temples. For our final evening in India, my mum and the ladies from the yoga course and I, decided to take a trip to a Shiva Temple in the mountains overlooking the Ganga. We were lucky as one of the ladies with us, Shoba (from Malaysia), follows the Hindu traditon and therefore turned into our personal guide, explaining to us all of the stories behind the statues in the temple (such as why Lord Shiva is depicted with a blue head in the Hindu statues-due to him swallowing poison to save another). 

 Mum getting told off 10 seconds after this photo for forgetting to take her shoes off-oops!

Mum getting told off 10 seconds after this photo for forgetting to take her shoes off-oops!

 Momma bear and I at Shiva’s temple. 

Momma bear and I at Shiva’s temple. 

 My beautiful Malaysian friend Shoba at sunset. 

My beautiful Malaysian friend Shoba at sunset. 

 My lovely friends Linda and Sonia from the next yoga group. 

My lovely friends Linda and Sonia from the next yoga group. 

 Blessed at the temple, represented by the red mark on the forehead (the third eye chakra) .

Blessed at the temple, represented by the red mark on the forehead (the third eye chakra) .

 Baby calf’s everywhere! It was so wonderful to be constantly surrounded by these beautiful creatures.  

Baby calf’s everywhere! It was so wonderful to be constantly surrounded by these beautiful creatures.  

I actually feel super grateful to have had Shoba around to explain the deities and the stories behind them. Hinduism is something that I’ve always been interested in learning more about and I’m so happy to have had a great overview of the tradition since my time in India. I’ve learnt a number of different aspects of the tradition, such as why Ganesha has an elephant head, their beliefs of death, burning the bodies on the Ganga and afterlife. From my own experiences, I would definitely say that it’s a very beautiful religion, which encourages self discovery and personal experience rather than blind faith.  

 Mother peacefully caring for her young.  

Mother peacefully caring for her young.  

 The mothers reaction when she caught me taking her photo (oops).  

The mothers reaction when she caught me taking her photo (oops).  

 Street kittens (which you don’t see many of, maybe due to the copious amount of street dogs). 

Street kittens (which you don’t see many of, maybe due to the copious amount of street dogs). 

 This little fella nailing the ‘looking into the distance’ pose. 

This little fella nailing the ‘looking into the distance’ pose. 

Kuala Lumpur-

Leaving Rishikesh was a bit surreal as I honestly felt like it was home for me, especially as I was leaving my mum and a new group of friends behind. I had been offered a short term volunteering position in New South Wales (Australia), teaching yoga and running daily activities at a private holistic addiction retreat. This meant that I had to book my flights back to Auz slightly earlier than initially intended. (A top travel tip of mine is that I never book flights untill the very last minute, as you never know what opportunities are going to arise in different countries). 

 Pretty sure I have enough luggage.  

Pretty sure I have enough luggage.  

Mum didn’t come with me to the airport as she said she would be too emotional, I thought maybe she just didn’t want to cop the hour journey though-can’t blame her haha! Due to my last minute booking (the downside of last minute), I had a 12 hour stop over at Kuala Lumpur airport to look forward to. When I landed there at 7am, I was a little apprehensive of leaving the airport to explore as I was soo exhausted from the journey (and the screaming baby on the plane) . However something inside of me said “no, get your ass out there”, and I’m super glad I did!

 Three flights until I get back to sunny Auz!

Three flights until I get back to sunny Auz!

 A super fancy shop at Indira Gandhi International Airport. 

A super fancy shop at Indira Gandhi International Airport. 

It was easy enough catching the metro from the airport and exploring a bit of Kuala Lumpur. I ventured out to the Batu Caves, as recommended by my lovely Malaysian friend, Shoba. I must admit, it felt so good to be travelling by myself again. And don’t get my wrong, I LOVE being around people, friends and of course my mum, but sometimes it’s nice just to be in your own world, wandering wherever you feel like without consideration of others. Perhaps that’s inherently selfish, but everyone needs their alone time.  

 A giant statue of Lord Shiva outside the Batu Caves.  

A giant statue of Lord Shiva outside the Batu Caves.  

 Some fierce looking horse statues. 

Some fierce looking horse statues. 

 A beautiful golden temple. 

A beautiful golden temple. 

 Exploring Kuala Lumpar for the day. 

Exploring Kuala Lumpar for the day. 

 I’m fancinated by these statues which show the Gods living inside the heart of another.  

I’m fancinated by these statues which show the Gods living inside the heart of another.  

The Batu Caves were pretty awesome and were filled with an array of somewhat creepy, somewhat life-like statues (all perfectly scaled to average human size)-which all happened to represent stories within Hindu mythology. There were also a load of other temples in the same area to check out, so I would definitely recommend having a look around Kuala Lumpar if you ever get the opportunity! 

 Imagine walking into a dark cave alone to find this..

Imagine walking into a dark cave alone to find this..

 Some what creepy, somewhat life like.  

Some what creepy, somewhat life like.  

 I would love to know the story behind this statue! Where is Shoba when I need her!? 

I would love to know the story behind this statue! Where is Shoba when I need her!? 

What next?

When I land Down Under, my next adventures will consist of volunteering at a holistic addiction retreat centre with my boyfriend Henrik. I’m super excited as I’ll be running physical activities and teaching daily yoga classes (which I’m keen to try out my newly acquired yoga teacher skills from India).

To keep up with my journey, check out my insta: @TheVeganYogiTraveller