Tuesday, January 1, 2019

A Trip to India

Ganges River in Rishikesh
India has been one of the countries on the list to visit for a long time, and the time for that arrived on January 1st 2018. I always find the first day of the year a great date for traveling to a distant destination. 
I received an invitation from my Indian college friend, Nasser, for his wedding in Hyderabad. The time to the wedding was short and it did not seem possible to make a trip to India! After some consideration, I thought that this is the best opportunity and reason to finally visit this great country.

India is so diverse than the rest of the world, it feels like being on a different planet. There are 1.3 billion colorful people from various religions, cultures, that speak different languages living in one vast country. Rural areas are well populated. The music in the cities are the sounds of the horn of vehicles. What’s fascinating is that they all live in harmony and peace with each other. Very rarely we encountered people loosing their calmness and tranquility. A large portion of the population in India is living in poverty and in my point of view they were all compassionate and accepting of one another. Even though they might be considered poor, but they are still happy!
India is a great example that it is possible to live all together in harmony!

Hyderabad is one of the biggest cities in the southern India and it is the capital of Telangana state. It is known for the “City of Pearls” historically it has been a center for pearl trading. The common language of this state is Telugu and Urdu, most people speak Hindu as well! The most practiced religion in this area is Islam but there are also many Christians and Hindus.
When I arrived in Rajiv Gandhi’s International Airport in Hyderabad and saw the public signs, I was surprised that were four languages on the signs and besides English I also could read the language of Urdu. Urdu’s roots come from Indo Iranian language, and it is a mixture of Hindi and old Farsi!    

Spending time with our Indian friend and his family in their household during the wedding preparations was a great experience. We felt part of the family and were included in all the events. On the Wedding day we first attended the mosque in Muslim traditional clothing, prayers were sung, and vows were signed. After the mosque, the groom’s immediate family went to the bride’s house and the two families celebrated the union. At this point the father of the bride put his daughter's hand in the groom’s and the newlywed separated from her family and went to her new home. This traditional event was an emotional moment of separation and union, some family members were in tears and sad that she was leaving and at the same time they were happy that she was married. The wedding evening ended with extended celebration at the Nasser's house with plenty of delicious Indian food.
The second day was the reception dinner at an outdoor banquet hall. Indian weddings are known to be large, Nasser’s reception was considered relatively small and only 700 people were attended. Here the men wore suits and ties and women wore the traditional colorful dresses. This was a customary Muslim wedding where men and women are usually celebrating separated in different halls. But the night ended up all mixing together. I am grateful for this amazing opportunity to celebrate a wedding in India.  

Wedding day at the Mosque
Wedding day at Bride's house
In our traditional clothing
Wedding Reception
Family picture at the Reception
The air everywhere in India seems hazy and I still have not fully understood why! It’s not the humidity or the pollution. Indeed India has the spiritual energy in its air! Maybe the haziness is the spiritual doubt of our world today!
There are temples all over this country and many people visit them daily. At the temple you give a charity and they color mark your forehead/third eye with a dot, which is a sign that you visited the temple that day!
Nariman and I visited the temple and got marked
After the wedding in Hyderabad, my Chicago/Swedish/Persian college friend, Nariman and I flew to northern India in the foothills of Himalaya to the town of Rishikesh. This town is known as the capital of yoga and meditation in the world. Many yogis and spiritual masters have spent extensive times here, including Ghandi, Yogananda, and they are even believes that Jesus was in this part of India during his teenage life! The city is holy; no animal meat or alcohol is consumed or entered this area. People are calm and tranquil and the vibration of peace is in the atmosphere. The largest river in India and one of the main rivers in the world; the Ganges starts right here in the Himalaya foothills. At it's source the river is crystal clear and pure! Looking at this river from the ashram and walking by it made us so relaxed and calm. Rivers are like veins in our bodies and Ganges is like the Aorta of planet Earth!
Everybody is welcome and free here, you see people from all countries and nations. Even the animals feel free here, Cows, monkeys, and dogs, are roaming on the streets. And no body bothers anybody else, however, the monkeys can be vicious!
One day I was walking around the streets in Ram Jhula and bought some popcorn, as I was eating it I encountered a cow that came towards me and wanted some, he got some popcorn and walked away. The same day I bought fresh made cookies and as I was crossing the walking bridge I realized that a monkey was trying to snatch the cookie bag from me! He was not gentle and made me slightly scared. I had to run away and go around people, scooters, and cows on the narrow bridge to loose him! People were laughing looking at me being chased by a monkey! Afterwards, I thought, It would have been easier to just given him a cookie or two! There are actually street vendors that sell food for the monkeys and cows. Street vendors are common in India, they sell everything you can imagine!

I also have to add that India is not the cleanest country, you have to really watch where you step your feet! Ganges is pure and clean at its source but gets filthy by the time it reaches the Ocean. Perhaps we could compare it to our body, it’s clean and pure at birth and get filled with junk/rubbish throughout life!  
In Rishikesh, we resided at an ashram for one week. Ashram is a spiritual hermitage and kind of a monastery. You live here full time and learn how to practice Meditation and yoga daily from 5:30am to 8pm.

The schedule was as following,
Morning bell 5:15am
Morning Meditation 5:30-6:30
Morning Yoga 6:45-8:15
Breakfast 8:30-9
Library 10am
Lunch at Noon
Lecture on philosophy 3:15-4pm
Evening tea 4pm
Evening yoga 4:30 5:45
Evening Meditation 6-7pm
Dinner 7:15
And two days a week there was Musical Holy Hymns from 8-9pm! 

It’s recommended to participate in all classes but not mandatory and you are free to go outside the ashram and visit the area but must be back by 10pm!
All the food served was vegan. The cost of staying in an ashram is around $20 including food, room, and classes. India in general is very cheap!

View of Ganges from Yoga Niketan Ashram at Sunrise
There are many ashrams in Rishikesh area, some small and some bigger ones. Yoga Niketan was in the hills and more deserted with excellent view over the Ganges. There are also other spiritual events outside the Ashram in the city such as the Aarti. This Hindu ritual was held in a couple of various places by the river at sunrise and sunset. The ceremony included singing prayers, offering light and appraisal to the Hindu gods and life, making wishes and light a candle and set it adrift on the river!   
Aarti in Ram Jhula
Aarti in Rishikesh
Aarti Ritual at Sunset
Nariman Making a Wish
Candles floating on Ganges at Sunset
The short period in Rishikesh has helped me to change my life. Yoga and Meditation has become a daily routine in 2018.
Yoga is a form of exercise that helps one with physical and mental balance. It stretches your body and helps the flow of energy in your chakras. This flow of energy supports one during meditation to rise in vibration. Yoga and meditation are supposed to be practiced together!
Meditation helps with calming down and focusing on one self. It is the primary way to connect to the essence within! The more pure and clean the body and mind are, the more effective is meditation! The essence of life is One and it’s in all of us!

I feel more happy, relaxed, and peaceful than ever! Eating healthy food, vegetables, fruits, and nuts in proportion is the daily diet. And consumption of alcoholic beverages and animal products are eliminated from the daily routine. 

I feel light and I am enlightening! I am aware and rising in awareness! I am more clear, compassionate, understanding, accepting, respecting, content, and prosperous than ever!  
I am grateful and humble!
I wish so for all of you!
This road is long, it’s a life journey!

May the new year bring more peace and love to our planet and may the cosmic intelligence fill every human on earth with peace and love!                 

Walking on water (Not)
The Walking Bridge in Laxman Jhula
The Wisdom Tree
Tuk Tuks, common way of transportation
Lakshman Temple
Vegetable Street Vendor in Hyderabad
Pomegranate Bicycle Vendor
Charminar in Hyder Abad
Nizam's Palace and Museum in Hyderabad
Nizam's Palace and Museum in Hyderabad
Ram Jhula
Free Roaming Cows
Food Vendors in Ram Jhula
A view of the Ganges
Woman carrying fire wood by the Ganges
Spectacular nature and hills by Rishikesh
Kids selling wish candles to set a drift on the river
Rafting on Ganges
Sunset in Rishikesh

Happy New Year
Thank You for Reading 
Love from India

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Sailing Jamaica

Rolly Lush Hills of Jamaica

Sailing in the Caribbean from one island to another one sounds like a dream and it is like living the dream! What most people might not recognize are the challenges on a sailboat at sea. My friends usually get surprised of how much the boat is rolling and heeling over when on the open waters. Additionally, if you never been seasick, you might on a small boat for days out on the ocean! Hopefully the seasickness should go away after a few days but not necessarily! 
The 210 miles passage from George Town, Cayman Islands to Jamaica turned into 270 miles. As a routine, the fuel tank gets topped off every 12hrs of engine operation. Last fuel was purchased in Los Morros Marina in Cuba, which was not as clean as it should be for boats. Marine Diesel Engines are very sensitive to fuel and that said; Earthling’s engine stopped 3 times because of dirty fuel. Every time the engine stopped, the fuel lines between the tank and filter had to be disconnected and cleaned from debris. The 3rd time, the fuel filter that was replaced a couple weeks prior was totally plugged. But also imagine, you are seasick, the boat is heeling over, it’s sunny and hot with diesel fumes around and you have an empty stomach and can’t eat anything, I did feel bad for my friend Tadas, luckily seas and wind were moderate!

Moreover, during the passage an accidental jibe happened while the fishing trolling line was out, which wrapped around the shaft! Undoing wrapped lines underneath the boat is not that hard at anchorage on flat waters! But doing it on the sea as you are moving/drifting is much more challenging! In this case, there is a steel wire at the end of the fishing line that two lure with hooks are attached to, which now is wrapped around the shaft! You can’t operate the engine or be in gear, it can create a bigger damage!     Fortunately, there is someone else on the boat! It was right around sunset and the job had to be done rapidly!
While in the water trying to undue the wire, one of the hooks got caught on my thumb, it was dragging me down underneath the water as the waves were hitting the side of the boat. In that moment I totally felt for the fish when they are caught on the hook! Tadas turned the engine on and put it in gear for the line to be able to unwrap as it was hooked deep in my thenar muscle. Part of the wire unwrapped and the hook ripped off the muscle and came out as blood was running down my arm. That was a nerve-racking dangerous situation! Grateful to be safe again!      
After four days sailing east bound against the trade winds, rolly lush hills of Jamaica became visible in the horizon. It’s always a wonderful feeling to see land after days at sea! 
Beautiful houses ashore
Jamaica is one of those mountainous islands of the Caribbean. It has over 600 miles of coast line. The nature here is what’s worth most to visit. Earthling’s crew got to do some hikes through the rain forest to waterfalls and coffee plantations! The highest peak is the Blue Mountain with an elevation of 7400ft (2200m). Along the narrow road from Port Antonio to Kingston through the Blue Mountains you can see many scattered waterfalls and spectacular green rainforest. Blue Mountain is mostly covered by clouds, but occasionally the clouds clear up from the peak and the view is amazing from the east bay anchorage in Port Antonio.         
The View from East Bay Anchorage in Port Antonio

Earthling got to anchor from west in Negril to East in Port Antonio and along the north coast in Montego Bay, Discovery Bay, and Ocho Rios. Jamaica’s north coast is very nice for cruising; there are several nice coves perfect for anchoring. Negril and Bloody bay has a long beach with tons of restaurant, guesthouses, hotels, glass bottom boats and other tourism activity! It’s the busiest tourist spot in Jamaica.

Negril Anchorage
Montego Bay is the hub for many tourists to fly in before spreading around to different sites. It’s the second largest city after the capital Kingston, but not that good of place to anchor. There is little room to anchor by the Yacht club but it’s possible to anchor on the other side of the bay by the Pier One, which is right by town! All the anchorages in Jamaica are surrounded by beautiful nature. In addition, the sound of the Caribbean music from shore is alive till late hours in almost every harbor.
Jamaica is one of the major islands of the Caribbean with its Rastafarian roots in culture and music. Many of the Caribbean musicians and singers come from here as well as Trinidad & St. Vincent. Jamaicans like the rest of the Caribbean Countries have very limited earning, average monthly income is $350 a month.  People in Jamaica are very proud of their country but the Jamaicans in Cayman were quiet about their nationality.  Statistics show high level of crime here, but crime is high in Chicago as well and unfortunately it’s increasing in general all over on our planet! “I am safe and I trust” is all you can do! At the same time travelers should always show less than more, don’t wear gold jewelry and watches and don’t expose different kinds of valuable electronics. A few of the local dwellers in Montego Bay suggested that I take the gold chain off my neck while in town!
There are many big beautiful houses on the hills visible when you are sailing along the coast, and most of them are resorts or guesthouses! Tourism is the largest industry along with bauxite soil (Alumina) and agriculture. Almost everyone here wants to be a guide. In Ocho Rios, my long time friend Benny and I walked up the steep road in search for waterfalls and as we were hiking, two brothers ages 12 and 14 years old insisted to show us the way through the forest. We went along with the brothers and got to a couple breathtaking waterfalls. Later on we realized this was a public park and we entered it from the forest and there is a charge to enter the waterfall, which we ended up paying to the security anyways! Most visiting sights in Jamaica have an entry fee and the price is usually different for local residents than tourist. We always have negotiations going on to pay the local price and most of the time we are successful! Wherever Earthling is, that’s where I live, right now in Jamaica! The guides, street vendors, people on the street are all want to help you and make a buck. Whatever you need they say they have!     
Jamaica must have the highest cannabis consumption per capita in the world even though the UN Drug report statistics show Jamaica at 10%, USA at 16.2%, and Israel at 27%.  Marijuana is widely available at any location at any time and it perceives like more or less everybody is using it. It’s part of the Rastafarian culture to consume it to become more spiritual. Cannabis is cheaper than cigarettes here, people are rolling and smoking joints instead of cigarettes!
The spirit of Bob Marely is alive everywhere in Jamaica. There are a few Bob Marley sites to visit (homes, museum, mausoleum) we got to see the Museum in Kingston!

Bob Marley Museum

The highlight of Jamaica was right here at Errol Flynn’s marina in Port Antonio, where cruisers and sailors from around the world (Sweden, Paraguay, Germany, USA, Spain, Italy, UK, Belgium, Chile, and Iran) crossed path and many of us became friends for life. The weather was not favorable for nearly 2 weeks, which forced every boat to stay put in Porto. Everybody has left to different direction now, but Earthling and Adriatica(Italy)! 
The Errol Flynn’s Marina is the only place in Jamaica with a boat yard and 70ton travel lift. Even though Earthling’s agenda was to sail to the British Virgin Islands by the end of the season, but several facts have contributed to the decision to haul out the boat here for the hurricane season. Earthling will continue this voyage in November!
Blue Lagoon, Port Antonio

Street Vendors common way of trade
Rio Grande
Scattered Waterfalls
The Road in the Blue Mountains
Blue Mountains
Green Grotto Caves
Magroves by the Lagoon
Dunn's Falls
Swinging on the tree vines like Tarzan
Liberating in the Konko Falls
The brothers did a great job as guides
Local Jewelry in Montego

Winnifred Beach
Sailors from around the world
Thanks for reading     

One Love From Jamaica