Vikas in the ashram's cow house
Vikas in the ashram’s cow house

No luck purchasing my train ticket from Lucknow to Varanasi at the internet place, the Wifi was down. But I was able to purchase it on Vikas’ computer after dinner at the ashram last night.  Though once again, after a few attempts!  This time, when I put in my Debit card info, I blanked on my old San Francisco address.  It is still the address linked to my SF Fire Credit Union bank account instead of the address where I’d been living in North Berkeley for 15 months before I left.  For some reason, I had the address for a place where I’d been teaching yoga many years instead — 1156 instead of 1337.  Oops!

I realized I had put in the wrong address when the card was declined.  After trying my card again with the correct address, it was still declined and I was given the message to try another card or contact my bank.  Ut oh!  I bet what that meant was the Credit Union automatically cut me off from using my own card because the wrong address attempt in a foreign country could mean fraud.  I’ve often had access to my own credit cards frozen while traveling to protect myself from me! It’s been super frustrating in the past and always requires a call to the bank to explain and request the card please be reinstated.  When I tried calling the 800-number on the back of the card, it wasn’t going through which was perfect timing actually.  As I was just in conversation with Vikas about the ways I could purchase an Indian SIM card so I could stop paying the $40/month global plan that only gave me minimal access to phone calls, texts and data.  It’s time to figure that piece out next!  After our helpful conversation, it looked like I would soon be on my way.  For now, I tried my hand at one last ticket purchase attempt using a MasterCard I had with me in case of emergency.  Bingo!  Third time IS a charm!  And I was now the proud owner of a train ticket to Varanasi from Lucknow, three days after I arrived.  YAY!  Peace of mind.  And well worth it.

Vikas and calf he was fond of
Vikas and calf he was fond of

This time, I chose a day train leaving early morning since it was only 6.5 hours instead of 10-11 and was even a little cheaper.  I requested a window seat and was already really looking forward to looking out the window with my headphones on, listening to the soundtrack to the movie of my life.  I was beginning to miss the wide range of electronic music I listen to so often in the States, especially with the constant drone of amplified Indian music that always seems to be coming from somewhere or another.   Long train or bus rides like that were the perfect to plug in and tune out.

I was getting psyched for the next leg of my journey.  My time at Avdhoot was lovely but now felt complete.  I had stayed there 8 nights and was ready to leave Rishikesh.  I’d be leaving the state I’d been in, Uttaranchal, to travel to a neighboring state, Uttar Pradesh.  With plans to head to where the Buddha was enlightened, Bodhgaya, in yet another state, Bihar, by mid/late December.  It was time to experience a bit more of India.

I had recently applied online for a 9-day Yoga and Meditation retreat I had found online at a place called Root Institute for Wisdom Culture, that offers courses in Buddhism.  I was really hoping I’d get in even though it was just a month away.  Just in case, I also applied for my third vipassana at a neighboring location, also in Bodhgaya.  It had come recommended by a friend.  I also really liked the idea of meditation in this supposedly quite activated place visited by tons of Tibetan Buddhist monks, especially this time of year and often by the Dalai Lama himself in Dec/Jan.  What a blessing that would be if we were there at the same time!  The course only had wait list availability for women but it looked like servers were needed.  I had always wanted to serve in the U.S. but wondered when I would take the luxury again of 10 days on retreat, not fully in the experience but as a helper/assistant.  Perhaps it was about to happen in India!  I was open to whatever outcome presented itself, always in prayer that it be what is most in alignment for my highest good.

One thing I was ready for by now was some Western food! Or at least non-Indian since the locations visited by many tourists also always have Italian (pasta!), Israeli (hummus!) Chinese (mixed veggies lo mein!) and of course American food (veggie burger)!  I was happy to have had 3 meals/day of super authentic Indian food but eight days in and I was definitely ready for a change.  And over bread!   Every morning at 7am, we were given two plain rotis/chapatas (round flat bread) and chai. They’d probably look at the size of a typical American breakfast in shock!  At noon, there was rotis (again) and dahl or some often spicy bean or potatos and white rice if you wanted.  For dinner at 6:45pm, there was rotis (again!) and another type of dahl.

On the days when the ashram was feeding visiting monks or the young Brahman boys from the neighboring school, there would also be a sweet desert like rice pudding.  Yum!  Most of the milk provided by the ashram was straight from the five cows the ashram owned and were kept just a block away. Vikas showed me them a couple days ago, locked behind what looked like the entrance to a home — guess it was, just a home for cows.  You’d never know they were back there.  They were excited to have us enter, thinking we’d be bringing food.  Instead we just gave them a little love and took a few pix, although one of them gently head butted me.  Not sure if that’s a way they show affection?  I have seen many be very sweet in the street acting like dogs when you scratch their head or chin (like Tashi did one day).  But… a friend from the Bhakti retreat also told me she got charged at by a big bull one day and actually sprained her wrist trying to hold it back by blocking it’s blow with a hand to its head. Only in India! She realized after that it probably charged because she was wearing a bright red shirt that day.  Mental note!  Good thing the closest I had to red with me was a crimson shirt, so I felt in the clear.

It was nice to be at the ashram when the monks or boys visited, which happened three of the eight days I was there.  You could hear their lovely low monotone singing voices chanting in Hindi (I’m guessing) before eating.  The people who regularly lived at the ashram (about twenty people, many older who all were devotees of the ashram founders) would eat afterwards, with any visitors like me.  That weekend it looked like one family visited its grandparents there with four cute children ranging from what looked to be four to twelve years old.  I captured such a sweet moment in my mind not my camera, of what looked to be the grandfather reading to all the kids.

In addition to serving food regularly to the school children or monks, Vikas also told me about other philanthropic efforts the ashram was currently working on like setting up a free physical therapy and cancer treatment center, connected to the ashram.  Those were some huge expensive undertakings but from the sounds of it, the ashram was being supported by many wealthy devotees.  In fact, they were able to provide donation-based accommodations due to the generosity of just one devotee who alone gave enough grains/rice, etc. to keep the ashram running.

When I was ready to leave the ashram, I went to my friendly internet place one last time and told the guy I was moving on.  He kindly gifted me a little necklace from a little alter that was hanging on the wall.  It looked like something that *maybe* my six-year-old niece might like, but it’s certainly the sweet thought that counts.  It was the second little gift I’d received thus far, in addition to another little necklace that an orange-dressed monk (?) or homeless person perhaps, gifted me in the other area I was staying in Rishikesh.   He had assured me he wanted nothing in return when he pulled it out of his pocket from nowhere.  I declined his offer to get chai but accepted the necklace (also in mind for my niece!) when he insisted.  So far, Indian men were proving to be kind, generous, helpful and harmless.

Vikas and I then said our good-byes.  They consisted of giving one another thanks and offering a namaste hand gesture.   When I asked if I could give him a hug and raised my arms a bit, he backed away laughing and said, oh no — he had a reputation to protect.  And he wasn’t kidding.  Apparently, it would be inappropriate for a yogi at an ashram such as himself to hug a woman… even if he knew me well.  He said he waited four years and until he was in Nepal to hug a dear friend of his, an Italian woman.  And then he gave her a huge hug that he didn’t let go of for quite a while, he explained laughing.  I can only imagine.  Thank you tenfold Vikas!  I thoroughly enjoyed our time together and I will miss you, your wisdow and your humor very much.  Now it’s time to gather my things, pack my backpack and lock the zipper for the first time in preparation for the train station and be on my way!

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