Hi once again to you all.Or perhaps I should say ‘Namaste’ – a truly beautiful Indian greeting that is deeply embedded in their spiritual culture. It translates as ‘I honour the place within you where we are one’.

Recently I attended a 10 day live-in course at the Tushita Meditation Centre, which is located in a monkey-infested pine forest on the hillside above McLeod Ganj. The theme of this course was An Introduction to Mahayana Buddhism, with a balanced structure of lectures, discussion groups, yoga and meditation sessions which have all combined to give me a basic grounding in Buddhist philosophy.

We were a gathering of about 30 Western travellers, mostly young and many travelling alone like myself. When you sign on at Tushita you are accepting to be isolated from the outside world for the duration of your stay and, outside of specific discussion times, to maintain silence much like monastic life would require.

We quickly became a little community of our own – at the beginning each person was assigned a duty, such as kitchen-hand, cleaning, timekeeping and gong ringer to keep the community functioning through teamwork and camaraderie. Accommodation was in simple dorms or private rooms, meals were vegetarian but plentiful and nutritious. In fact everything was planned well and rostered. It reminded me of school camp but for aspiring Buddhists!

The only times set aside for talk was a 1 hour discussion session each day where we would split into small groups and sit in the forest sharing our observations swapping knowledge and experience. It may sound difficult for some, but I found the vow of silence kind of cool, and it did create an internally focused train of thought that made learning and meditation much easier. But of course we all learned to bend the rules a little, and we would create our own sign language, leave little notes, joke around and even flirt with each other without so much as speaking a word.

So what did I learn? Well, Buddhism is more less like a religion and more like a spiritual self-development. Tolerant and respectful of all other religions and spiritual beliefs, Buddhism’s real appeal is in its simplicity and may be practiced by anyone.

A large focus of the Buddhist path is on meditation practice – training the mind through the cultivation of mindful awareness and attention to the present moment. The Buddhist belief is that all the difficulties and suffering in life are the result of ignorance, deluded thinking and conflicting emotions. The obvious solution is to get wiser, more aware, better balanced and more loving. All these can be achieved through the mental discipline of meditational practice, a path that will eventually lead to a state of eternal bliss called enlightenment. To get there can take a long time though, in fact many, many lifetimes and incarnations. To determine what quality of incarnation you will receive in your next lifetime you must accrue positive and negative karma throughout this life. It means you have to start being a good person or you may be reincarnated as a cockroach, a bacteria, a hell-dweller, a Carlton supporter, or something equally distasteful – all making it more difficult to pursue the path to enlightenment.

I really liked the fact that if anything in the teachings doesn’t sit right then that’s ok, Buddhism demands doubt, questioning and reasoning. I can get all the benefits of Buddhist meditational practice without making any firm commitment to the faith and remaining open to other spiritual pathways and teachings (so rest easy everyone, I’m not about to become a monk just yet!).

Highlights of my stay at Tushita was the chance to discuss philosophy with other people, who like myself, are on a kind of inner quest, seeking a more peaceful and balanced path in their life.

I also loved sharing the forest with all the monkeys. Big ones and little ones, they were everywhere – through the mossy pine trees, the lawns and all over the rooftops, they were a constant source of entertainment. They were also very cheeky, if you turned your back they would steal your food, or clothes and towels and carry them of into the forest. Not surprisingly, they were very cautious of the Indian and Tibetan staff, who weren’t afraid to give them a whack if they got too close. But with the Westerners, they sensed our inexperience and would gang-up to menace any lone walker, especially the girls.

You really had to assert yourself with them. I had a run-in with one of the big dominant males who got territorial and would not let anyone use the pathway to the showerblock. When I confronted the mangy bugger he took a swipe at me and made me break my vow of silence with some language that was neither noble, sacred or kindly Buddhist (but very Australian!). The monkeys left me alone after that.

India still continues to fascinate me – where else in the world can you see some guy walking casually down the street completely naked, dreadlocks worn to the waist and skin smeared all over with ash, and not only will people tolerate him, they will hand over a few rupees so he can continue his spiritual journey. Such a strange, strange place.

Light and love to all of you,

Paul

I have been quite busy this week studying Tibetan massage in the evenings and starting today I have begun a Iyengar Yoga course that takes 3 hours each morning. Iyengar is the Yoga style which uses blocks, ropes, straps and cushions as tools to help you maintain correct posture as you stretch and breathe. It was hard work but I felt very relaxed and balanced afterwards.I have also bought a Nepalese flute and am taking lessons from a friend. At the moment I am just working my way through the scales but as the muscles in my mouth develop and my fingers become more nimble I will be able to play a tune.Love to you all,Paul

Paul’s adopted ‘daughter’ Bella.  Hello all readers of the Paulseagypsy blog.

Paul is busy learning, he booked himself into a demanding 10 day seminar and we’re just patiently waiting to hear from him again.

Paul’s Mum and Dad and ‘daughter’ Bella

Delhi to McLeod Ganj

5 June, 2007

Hello again to everyone.Welcome to all whose e-mail address I have finally found or corrected and a big warm hello to my new friends from my travels through Thailand – thankyou for your friendship and guidance during the journeys we shared.Earlier in the week I bid farewell to Thailand and arrived in India,  a land that I am finding as challenging as it is fascinating.Flying into Delhi I felt unsettled,  having heard stories over the years from friends and travellers of the manic energy of Delhi airport and the in-your-face locals vying for your business.
Taking a few deep breaths I ploughed through the customs gates to the greetings of an ocean of faces – shouting, waving, pulling at my attention (and luggage).
Yes, I had finally arrived and could do nothing more than step forward into the sounds, the colours, the dust and the smells – all the sensory overload that late-night Delhi has to offer to the weary traveller.

My first warning to all – the roads in India are insane.  Seriously, I can’t see any rules besides respect and give way to all other vehicles bigger than yours (also to cows – they’re sacred and often stop the traffic!).  Climbing into my ride that night, I buckled up and just hung on for what felt like a carnival ride on bad acid.

Everyone, and I do mean every car/ truck/ motorbike/crazy taxi, just loves their horn. The sound is your constant companion on the roads.  And then when darkness descends the headlights also come into play – to be flicked on and off repeatedly like a rave party stobe light (with the blaring horn to accompany, of course).  Appararently all this is a warning to the unwary – a ridiculously dangerous attempt at overtaking is about to be attempted – get the hell out of my way!!

Having survived it’s traffic snarls, I decided Delhi did not really appeal to me. 
The dust, the heat, the crush of humanity and the thickly polluted air all left me with little desire for sightseeing.
Perhaps I just didn’t want my initial experiences in India to be an overcrowded, dirty city – all this can wait while my senses adjust to the country. My need is for fresh mountain air, serenity and open spaces – so I head north toward the Himalayas and the alpine village of McLeod Ganj.

At this point I should note my second warning to the uninitiated – Indian food takes to time for the Western body to adjust to!

In the months before I left Australia I was intent on building a cast-iron stomach, a digestive system that could cope with anything.  I consumed herbal brews and bitter potions, all to to build digestive powers of herculean proportions.

Alas, on my third day, all failed and I felt myself on the way to becoming very,very sick.

Now, facing a 13 hour overnight bus journey is difficult enough in the best of health.  But I was determined to get away from the city, to face illness and recuperation there was inconceivable.
So onto the bus I climbed, and applied all my reserves of willpower and energy to hold myself together, every possitive affirmation within my soul toward keeping myself functioning on the road. And I did it. 
On arrival in McLeod Ganj, spurred by the crisp morning air of the Himalayas and by now becoming consumed by cold shivers and stomach cramps, I found a pleasant guesthouse and barricaded myself in my room.  For 20 feverish hours I slept, only surfacing from my hibernation for some water and the herbal remedies I had carried all this way (thankyou Zen Health).

The next morning,  I woke with an almighty thirst. Weak and lightheaded, I slowly drank more water, another round of herbs, topped myself up with reiki and assessed my condition.  Better  in fact, my appetite was back with a vengeance.  A good recovery, I have spoken to many travellers who have stayed sick for days, weeks, even months as their bodies cope with Indian conditions.   My pre-meal ritual is to now wash hands thouroughly with disinfectant swabs and post-meal, if I think a meal may be a bit sus, I throw back a shot of vodka and burn all the germs out. It works a treat and I’m now loving the cuisine.

Having now recovered and free to begin exploring my surrounds, I should share some detail on the village of Mcleod Ganj.

When the Chinese began their occupation of Tibet, the Tibetan Government, led by his holiness the Dalai Lama, fled to India and settled in Dharamsala/ McLeod Ganj. Exiled Tibetans, unable to return to the unrest in their country,  have made this region their home,  carrying on their culture and promoting the teachings of Buddhist philosophy and way of life.

It is a peaceful place, where you share the streets with robed monks and buddhist followers, brightly coloured prayer wheels and prayer flags.  A place where the mountain air seems to resonate with deep chanting voices.

Many international travellers come to McLeod Ganj for its beauty, a taste of Tiibetan culture and craftwork, and also for the oppurtunity to learn in a spiritually uplifting environment.
A diverse range of courses are on offer here – Meditation, Yoga, Reiki and many styles of natural medicine.

This is perfect for this point in my journey.  Lately I have been craving some structure to my days, a course of study should remedy this.  I’ve been fortunate and have been accepted into a 10 day live-in course in Buddhist philosophy and meditation beginning tommorow.  I will be attempt to share any insights with you all in my next journal.

The mighty mountains of the Himalayas

In the meantime,  I have been hiking any mountain trail I can find. The views are magnificent, hiking to a high ridgeline over the valley brought me to the beginning of the Himalayan range.  Huge, icy peaks dominate one skyline, and in the other direction you can see for countless kilometers across the valley floor. Sharing the trail with herdsman and mountain goats, sherpas and pack donkeys it is a colourful experience. Along the paths, where the views are most open you will often find a small tea stall – really just a tent on a ridge where a friendly local can pour you an energy-restoring brew of spiced tea. Here, hikers gather and swap valuable information and tales of adventure of the trek ahead. It’s an excellent, fitness enhancing experience, and I’m planning to explore as much of these mountains as I can fit in.

Friendly mountain goats

Wishing you all happiness, love and light until next time.

Paul

Hi Mum and Dad

3 June, 2007

Hi Mum and Dad,  Everything is well with me, I’ve made a fast recovery from my stomach bug.
Lots of energy and a huge appetite again.  I think I was just adjusting to the India bugs. Today I went out for a walk after breakfast and just kept going and going. Hiked up to a ridgeline facing a glacier and the first line of the Himalayan range.

So close to the Himalayas
I’m staying at just under 2000 meters and hiked to maybe 2600 meters today. 
The scenery is amazing, much like what I remember from Switzerland.
Meeting many of the characters along the way was a highlight,  other travellers and the local mountain nomads with tea stalls along the trail and herders with goats,  yaks and donkeys all sharing the path. Whilst wildlife spotting I saw some huge mountain eagles and a mongoose.

I enjoy the serenity of the mountains and will spend quite some time here.

Many other travellers have given me ideas from their experiences and will follow their path. Everythings so cheap here,  my room is clean and comfortabe and costs about $4.50 Aus for the night and food is about $2 for a big meal. 
I am looking into some courses here in natural medicine and buddhist meditation.

I heard about Uncle J from Deb, very sad.

I also hear there has been good rain, I’m hoping it will be all green again when I come home.

Let me know if any mail,  bills,  etc. has arrived.

How is my daugther?  Is she becoming more friendly?  Tell her I miss her.

Love to you,

Paul

Hi Deb,
I think I’ve made a full recovery from this round of stomach bugs.
My tongue is looking quite healthy again.  Had a big breakfast this morning and thought I’d hike over to the next village 2km away.
Got there and just kept going, 16km later and with the most stunning mountain vistas in my memory (and camera) I found my way home again.
Such an excellent day, full of energy and meeting all sorts of characters along the way.
I’m getting heaps of ideas for my journey from other travellers and their experiences.
So much to do, I’m having fun now.
Sad to hear about Uncle J,  I only hope the time he has left will be peaceful.

Believe me, I’m being careful with the water here.  Those purifying tablets I bought was an excellent investment. There is bottled water here but no recycling and so many empty bottles from travellers. 
A big environmental issue here, so people either boil or purify and keep same bottle to help.

Thankfully, my bus had no movies. I’m sure I’ll face this sometime in my future though.  Got my earplugs ready.

Love to you all. Paul

Hi Deb,

 I have safely arrived in McLeod Ganj and feel peaceful and happy here.

The bus trip was long (13hr) and overnight. Indian buses are not designed for long westerners legs and what little room I had disappeared altogether when my front neighbour reclined for the night. Big crush! Think I’ll opt for the sleeper here on,  but I did sit next to a very interesting Norwegian guy who has been here years studying Buddhism and trekking.  Got heaps of useful info and tips from him.

Have been quite ill with stomach bugs.  Managed to stay ok during travel here but fell in a heap after I settled. Very dizzy and weak. Slept 20 hours yesterday and have improved heaps.  Today the appetite is back with a vengeance and slowly getting my energy back. Will take it easy another day, explore around town and start some day hikes over the next days.

Big mountains to be seen.  Lots of monks and peaceful travellers around town, heaps of courses in
Buddhism,  meditation and natural medicines,  craft shops,  diverse restaurants and cafe’s.
My room is clean and quiet and costs about $4.50 Aus for the night. I think I’ll stay a while.

Thanks for the links.
Love to all of you, Paul