The Beginning...

Ok, so here I am in Bangalore, 3 months into my trip, I've maybe written 2 emails since departure and folks are starting to wonder what on earth I've been up to.

As time has moved on and I've delayed the telling of this tale, the more difficult it has been to begin as the course of events have become bigger, better and far greater than I could ever have imagined and so the task of putting it all into words has become daunting to say the least. But sod it. The time has come and with many thanks to Nithi and Sanjay for providing me with this oasis in the concrete jungle, I sit here with hot cuppa and warmly welcome y'all to:
It all began with the gorgeous Kimmie when some time late last year she planted the seed that saw me start on this journey a little earlier than I'd first planned। What a blessing it was indeed to have my rockin' soulsista gal pal buddy alongside for the first leg of the journey। We laughed, we played, we soaked up the smells. Pic.1 - Here we are having a giggle one fine dawn at Angkor.
One of the many things I loved in Cambodia were the Apsaras depicted on the stone carvings at Angkor. I couldn't get enough of them and thankfully there were plenty of them there to keep me gazing. The ultimate feminine deities, captured dancing in stone, I couldn't help but feel an affinity towards them.
After Cambodia, I mosied my way back to Vietnam to complete some unfinished business. On Christmas Day I'd had my bag with credit cards and valuables stolen from Nha Trang beach (boo) and so I reluctantly headed back into the throng of bright lights, big city mayhem to finish sorting it all out. The good thing about it was I got a little more time to do southern Vietnam and ended up on Phu Cuoc Island...with these two gorgeous trash bags. (Pic.3) We busied ourselves with ... actually we didn't do a bloody thing, and it was awesome. Gin o'clock on the beach watching the sunset was a major highlight.
After a harried return to Saigon and only just making my flight to Bangkok, I said goodbye Se Asia and helllooooo India.
Kolkata to be exact. I was ready and keen as Keen's to begin the next phase and so it was that I hopped on that flight with open heart and open mind. Minimal expectation so that each new sight, smell, encounter could only ever be a wonderful surprise. And that it has been indeed with whipped cream and cherry on top to boot!
Sparkle Buddha!
After adjusting to the newness of India and the sensory overload that was Kolkata, I headed for Bodhgaya.
Some time ago, I had made up my mind that I needed to see and be with The Bodhi Tree. I can't actually remember where the idea came from as I'd only read bits and pieces of Buddhist philosophy in the past and while I'd felt an affinity towards Buddhism, it hadn't been my intention to come to India on a spiritual odyssey as is the case for many. At some point however, the notion entered my subconscious and it became a major reason for coming to this land. And so, stop number one, the bodhi tree.
I was sick with the flu and a mild fever the day I arrived. The train came into Gaya at 4am and I must have looked like quite the lost lamb because a kind gentleman who I'd shared the train cabin with, put me on a cycle rickshaw and told the driver where I needed to go. After being dropped off in a deserted street but for a single rickshaw and a newspaper vendor, we began the wait. We weren't going anywhere till the rickshaw was full, or so that's what I read the sign language to mean. Full was an understatement. Now usually you can manage 3 adults in the back of a rickshaw, but on that cold and foggy morning, we managed a neat 11 passengers (including the newspaper vendor and all of his newspapers.) With my left butt cheek hanging out, I smiled as we set off in the dark for Bodhgaya. When we went over the first pot hole and I bumped my head so hard that my eyes watered, I laughed all the way to Bodhgaya. I love India, is all I could think.
After a power snooze to keep the fever at bay, I made my way to the tree. Bodhgaya as it turns out, is a major place of pilgrimage and I had to laugh at my naivety when I recall that I had imagined I'd visit a humble tree set in an open space, maybe it would have a plaque or something on it... what the? Rather, I was met with throngs of tourists, Indian families out for the day, Nepalese and Tibetan pilgrims, western devotees circumambulating and buddhas-in-the-making at every turn meditating meditating meditating.
Still, setting foot on the temple grounds where the tree sits, despite the bustle and beggars, the peace was overwhelming.
This little one in robes came and sat next to me. We sat under the tree and watched the people, soaking up the atmosphere. He got up, came back and presented me with this leaf.
My very own piece of the tree. I was touched by his intuition. Had I been yearning for a leaf so loudly that he couldn't help but overhear my desires? So we talked in sign language for a bit and then he asked to take my picture.
This is the picture.
I loved that he had never held a camera in his life and he was so happy with the result he was beaming when he skipped away. I sat for a long while afterwards and knew that I'd come to a very special place indeed.
The next day as I was coming back from one of the many temples around the place, the smell of kerosene tickled my curiosity. I followed the source to a village street. This is what I saw.
Turns out it was Muharram, a Muslim festival, or so my new best friend, Vikram told me.
Vikram was about 9, all charm and all brains. Over the next few days I met most his friends, his mother and sister, his school teacher and, "wait wait Barrrbara, now you meet my bestest friend, yes?" And his best friend. We played cricket. For those of you who know me well enough, I'll let you soak up the humour of that sentence.
Vikram and his friends thought it was pretty funny too. Actually, they thought I was pretty funny. After falling over themselves as they watched me "run like a girl", they called time out, huddled, and amid giggles Vikram was nominated the messenger.
"Ok, so we talk and now Barrrbara, you bat. Only bat. ok?"
"No run, ok?"
"No run? But what if I hit the ball?"
A true diplomat, he coughed over his giggles.
"No no, no run. We run for you. You just bat. Bat good, ok?"
And so it was that every time I managed to hit the ball, one of them came sprinting from the field and made run after run on my behalf.
Vikram and the Team, Bodhgaya

"real happiness in life begins when you begin to cherish others"
-Lama Zopa Rinpoche
Bodhgaya was also about my first serious foray into meditation. I decided to do a course at Root Institute. 10 days of divine silence, wholesome love-infused food, an overwhelming majority of like minded, nirvana seeking Australians (from Melbourne!), bodhicitta the dog, the goats and two teachers to whom I will be forever grateful for their knowledge and passion for sharing the philosophy that continues to blow my mind and open my heart.
While there, we were introduced to some of the teachings of Ven. Ani Tenzin Palmo.
If you ever get a chance to listen to her words, do it. What an inspiration, what a woman!
Here's a sample...
Root Institute, the Maitreya Buddha and giant prayer wheel in the making.

Ginger tea and the Dhamma. If you look closely, you might see splatterings of my mind on the walls due to regular explosions.

Dawn at Root Institute
This concludes blog entry number one. Hope you enjoyed the tale so far. I'm loving every nano-second. All my love and stay tuned...