Shanti greetings going out to everyone once again.

Many people have been asking where the hell I’ve been the past few months. Yes, I’m alive and well, and no, I havn’t been living in a cave in the Himalayas (although I think that would have been time well spent). I have slipped back into Australia quietly and have been slowly touching base with my circle of friends and re-establishing myself into Aussie society again.
Many of you who I have already caught up with keep asking for a final journal, one that kind of rounds up my journey, the changes that it has made to me as a person and the effects that it has had on my life back home.

Paul at home on his favorite couch doing what he loves….reading.

My last few weeks in India were interesting to say the least. I was just easing into some serious Yoga training in Rishikesh when I was struck down with the worst case of food poisoning my body has ever encountered. Who knows where I picked that up but it kept me bedridden for a couple of days and depleted of energy for many days after. No real problem, because there was plenty to still see and do in Rishikesh besides Yoga, but it did keep me from getting down to Agra and visiting the Taj Mahal. I wanted that to be one of the final experiences of my Indian journey, but missing out just gives me an excuse to go back someday, right.


Leaving Delhi for a 2-night stopover in Bangkok was an amazing experience. Going from the cramped, rubbish strewn, lawless roads of India and arriving early morning to the incredibly modern airport in Bangkok, I was fascinated with the cleanliness and space of the Thai roadways and the politeness of their drivers. And, yes, I am talking about Bangkok, that thriving metropolis of hedonistic delights. It just seemed so much more developed and easier than the Indian cities. Imagine the culture shock when I touched down in Melbourne – so much opportunity and personal space to be found here, if nothing else I will always take that perspective from my trip. We really do have it good in this country.

So, now back in Australia. Back in a landscape that was parched and undertaking a slow death by dehydration when I left it back in April.
I remember all too well the week I spent on my families rural property before my departure. The dusty and scorched paddocks and the hungry cries of the livestock that had eaten virtually every blade of grass to within millimeters. Most afternoons I spent climbing trees and reluctantly hacking down the leafy branches in the hope of sustaining the cattle a little longer and quietening their hungry voices for a short while.
And now, with the drought having almost broken over the winter months of my absence, I have returned to soft sunshine, green pastures, spring flowers and a landscape of renewed vitality. I just wish we could have a solid couple of months of the kind of monsoon rain like I experienced in northern India. That would really sort out our water concerns.

Fishing in a fast stream, another unforgettable experience

My first week back in Oz I spent with my parents. While travelling over the other side of the world, I actually felt closer to my family than I have in many years. They were my main connection with home, and I really appreciated their regular contact. In Kashmir I was fortunate enough to stay with a local muslim family who were very loving and dedicated to each other. One evening I spent on their houseboat on Dal Lake conversing with the father, a sufi philosopher and deeply religious man. He spoke about the virtues of a closely bonded family and over the course of the evening I was to change many of my attitudes toward life and relationships. In fact, his words of wisdom and many wonderful quotes from the Koran made me reassess my outlook on some day having my own family and children. Kids always used to seem like such a hindrance to the better things in life, now I actually look forward to a future raising my own. Anyone who knows me well enough would be stunned by reading such a revelation coming from me. Travelling and touching other cultures and structures of belief really does make those sort of enormous changes to a person.

Further changes have come from my exploration of other religious faiths and the important lessons I have taken from them.

Already I have mentioned the lessons of family love from my Sufi Muslim friends. It was an honour to watch their devotion to Allah expressed in music and songs of prayer.
Hinduism taught me that life is a celebration that is filled with colour and vitality.
Buddhism was the closest faith I could identify with. It teaches not to seek happiness from an external source. Happiness is an internal process that can be attained through following consistent meditation practice such as Vipassana. The defining mantra of the Buddhist people is ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’, which translates as ‘Wisdom and compassion are inherently within us all’. It’s a belief that gives me much hope in the future of our world.

 

Yet, after spending valuable time within the Buddhist, Muslim and Hindu communities of India, I found that I was still unable to embrace a structured religion. Never being one for elaborate shrines or ceremonies, I always felt most at peace within myself when I was outdoors in the mountains, the forests and the isolated river banks. I particularly connected with a quote from the guru Krishnamurti – ‘When one loses the deep, intimate, relationship with nature then temples, mosques and churches become important.’ I believe it explains a lot about our human condition and what we have lost as we continue to industrialise and urbanise.

When one loses the deep,intimate relationship with nature then temples, mosques and churches become important


 

With that in mind, coming back to the raw and elemental beauty of the rural area where my family have their property truly took my breath away – I was seeing it with fresh vision, my eyes taking it in as if for the very first time. For far too long I had taken it for granted and now I find myself setting a goal to relocate there in the not too distant future. In fact, I almost didn’t return to Melbourne, such was the draw of the countrysides energy and the promise of a quiet, slower-paced lifestyle. Yet, the quiet life may allude me for a while longer, firstly I wish to return to study and the immediate supporting income that the city can provide. Regular visits to the countryside and hugging a few of the local trees will just have to suffice.

Winter at home in Australia

 


Over my lifetime I have collected much knowledge of the human condition and the skills to balance mind, body and spirit. Continuing study is a worthy investment in my eyes and I believe that will be my path over the next few years. I also have my eye on my parents farm when they decide to sell in the coming years. Between all this studying and saving, any dreams of further travel will need to be shelved. But then, the universe always has a way of course correcting, and if I’m meant to pack up my life and go again then I’m sure the resources I will need will surely fall my way. You just have to believe…

Love, light and happiness going out to all,

Paul

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