The Ramana’s Garden/Rishikesh, India post generated enough interest justifying another to share more stories and experiences from this multifaceted excursion. I invite you to sit back, read and enjoy!

Another view of northern India….

The flu found its way into my system before leaving for India. This wasn’t how I wanted to travel to a country I knew little of and unknown conditions caused nervousness how my body was going to fight the virus. Homeopathic remedies are my preference rather than over the counter medication although an exception was made to buy more than one could possibly need before the flight. Enough were ingested before boarding the plane in Chicago to sleep most of the flight.

Leaving Delhi airport provided our Ambassadors for Children group with sights of pandemonium. Rickshaws, taxi’s, trucks, cows, weaved, or walked through the streets as our tired group sat in the speeding  shuttle heading towards our first night stay in a partially collapsed YMCA. The most dangerous family transportation was scooters. There were families of three or four on a scooter!

Mostly Dry River BedThe aged train our group boarded the following morning was much nicer than the standing only train the poor would take on their travels. Our train had the luxury of a bathroom, although to my surprise the toilet was open to the tracks that were rushing below. The clacking ride to Haridwar provided views of the poverty including dung homes and dung being used for fires. Sustainability at work, but this is what the people had to do. Many of the riverbeds were dry or nearly dry. Visual senses became stressed as my eyes had difficulty taking every second in.

Lord ShivaIn Haridwar porters transferred our bags to 4WD vehicles for transportation to Rishikesh. Statues of more than thirty Hindu gods and goddesses were coming into sight, the first being Lord Shiva standing tall near the Ganges river. After two hours of bumpy roads and drivers dodging scattering monkeys we arrived at the ashram where the International Yoga Festival was part of this voluntourism trip. Two months prior I had rotator cuff surgery making early morning yoga classes excellent physical therapy before the half hour walk through rubble and village shops to Ramana’s Garden. There were more types of yoga than I knew to become familiar with but focus was the orphanage and children.

Elisa with Cooking TeachersThe friendly cook at Ramana’s Garden Organic Cafe, which has the best food in Rishikesh, offered a cooking class in her home for Elisa and I. While living in England I learned to appreciate Indian food and Elisa is a culinary artist and food lover making this a great time and experience. The woman and herHomemade Indian Dinner mother were so friendly and outgoing they could have a successful cooking show in the U.S. They chopped, diced, sliced and cooked while we took notes which I’ve yet to make the recipes entered in my journal. The four of us finished the evening sharing and enjoying the creations of the best meal I had in India.

Tehri, India - Near Mountain RetreatThe day after the Computer and Library project was completed Elisa and I hired a driver and traveled north to Tehri, the location of the Himalayan Mountain Retreat to see another area of India and escape from the business of Rishikesh. (Driving is something you do not want to do in India!) I wanted to hike and get closer to the Himalayan Mountains which have been of interest since mountaineering became a passion. We made a stop in a small busy town before the retreat to purchase our food and personal items for our stay. Many locals were interested in conversation and I was asked numerous times to visit their home because they are proud people and wanted to introduce foreigners their family. The market sold just about everything including brand name jeans where they’re shipped to when they can’t be sold in U.S. retail stores. More than enough fruits, vegetables, grains, chai tea, mango chutney and hot mango pickle were purchased for the time at the retreat.

Mountain Retreat Main HouseThe Mountain Retreat wasn’t what you would think of as a retreat. There’s no electricity and if you wanted hot water it had to be heated by fire. The location was secluded and best of all it was peaceful and quiet, something rarely experienced since arriving in India. The retreat was managed by two caretakers who were most helpful, kind and humble. Meals of the fresh produce and fresh chapatti bread were prepared Elisa and I and chai tea was made during the day. One caretaker was working to support his wife and two children living in Nepal hundreds of miles away. He spoke very little English but we were able to communicate using basic communication skills, simple words, signing, and acting out. (Remember Dances with Wolves?!) The interest this man had was genuine, intriguing and refreshing.  In the evening fires were made in the dining area and bedrooms. Nights were colder being further north and at higher elevation so the warm, crackling fire was a nice way to heat the room and provide meditative sights and sounds.

Elisa, a caretaker (unfortunately I can’t remember his name), and I hiked along a dirt road the first morning making our way around a corner until the Himalayas came into sight. I stood silent with amazement. What I thought were a layer of clouds were mountain tops in the distance. A rush came over me and was in awe taking in the view wanting to be even closer, but that would have to be another excursion. We made hikes to a local village for a chai tea and to our own personal places for journaling and mediation. On one hike an Indian leopard caught my eye and I’m not sure who startled who. Birds of all kinds and colors were flying and singing on the forest edge. Returning from a hike a goat had just given birth to two kids. I watched with amazement as the mother cleaned then fed her newborns with the help of the gentle goat herder.

Leaving the retreat was almost as difficult as leaving the orphanage. In such a short time a bond was made with these two humble, giving men who made the stay comfortable and provided company. As a gift of thanks the extra food was left along with extra clothes. The departing trip to Rishikesh was long, knowing this was the beginning of the return trip back to the United States. Keeping travel interesting  was a sheep (traffic) jam. You never know what you’re going to encounter traveling in India so being in a hurry isn’t a good state of mind.

After a pass through night in Rishikesh and a quick hello to the children it was time to return to Delhi. For a change from the YMCA which had a bed in a small concrete room a night’s stay was reserved at a “proper” hotel. The shower, room, food were a pleasing change, but after enjoying everything that evening something didn’t feel right while thinking about the poverty and the poor that were just up the road. Some behind walls that were built to make them invisible. The following day was a visit to a shopping district to walk the streets and eat at a recommended safe restaurant. The sari shops had beautiful colorful fabric and if clothing was needed it could be bought in this area. My sight, sound, taste, and smelling senses were on overload before the afternoon was over sending me and Elisa back to the hotel to rest for a long day of travel.

My eyes experienced some of the best they’ve seen and the “not so best”. I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. The children, Ramana’s Garden, views of the Himalayan Mountains were spectacular. People from the Ambassadors for Children group, Ramana’s, and the caretakers greatly added to the enjoyment. I was looking forward to returning home knowing the experience would last a lifetime, wanting to return one day to visit the children and travel to Nepal.

Much gratitude to Elisa for telling me about the trip and sharing the adventure which gave me some of the most memorable experiences to date.

– Greg

“Yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision, but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”  – From the Sanskrit

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