Wild Wild Country is what everyone is currently talking about. Wasn’t our timing to visit Beatles Ashram just perfect. Am writing this as I make lunch for myself.
When you visit a historical site, one is immediately transported to those times and that life. And Beatles Ashram is a mixture of pop-culture and mysticism of the 60s. I have never been to a place any more other-worldly than this. Even if you are slightly interested in meditation, the meditation rooms will highly entice you. You will be drawn to them like a child to a candy shop, sorry for the cliché. These were the personal meditation rooms am talking about (see pic). And I haven’t yet begun talking about the huge meditation hall called Chaurasi Kutiya. I hope I do justice to this mystical corner and architectural work-of-art while describing it. Sadly we don't have photos that give the whole picture of this part of the Ashram. These are 84 small rooms lying adjacent to each other in rows. The walls are covered with rocks from local riverbed. Each room has a small opening instead of a door, just wide enough for one person to slip in. Each room has just one small window near the ceiling for ventilation. The rooms are shaped like small domes. The whole place is cool, quiet, and dark even at 2 in the afternoon. We were overwhelmed by imagining what the atmosphere would have been with people meditating in all 84 rooms at a given point of time. Such energy the place must have emanated. The chants would have echoed in the low ceiling domes. The collective energy would have surely created the transcendental experience most people vie for all their lives.
The Beatles composed 48 songs while they lived in the ashram. These mostly featured in their landmark albums The White Album, Abbey Road and Yellow Submarine. Their visit to the Ashram inspired a global interest in meditation and yoga. And helped Rishikesh become a popular tourist destination, especially for foreign tourists. Remembering their visit to the ashram is the Artisits’ Studio, with huge graffiti featuring them with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In fact, you will see artistic graffiti throughout the ashram. And they have been made by practiced hands.
If you are going to Rishikesh, don’t miss to visit Beatles Ashram. Thankfully, not many people know about it. So the crowd is minimal as compared to tourist spots in India. In fact, you can totally make a trip to Rishikesh just to visit the Beatles Ashram and spend some me-time there. Do carry your meditation mat.
Dal-chawal and fried bhindi anyone?
Have a look at our photos from the Rishikesh Trip here
The visually impaired also need a holiday. A holiday that treats them like equals. Disability tour or disability travel may not be the answer. Inclusive travel, most likely, may be. The lesser conversation we have about how different the disabled people are from able-bodied, the better it is. In fact, the conversation should be, how alike we all are, disabled or able-bodied. And therefore the need to go to a new destination, unwind in the new vibe, and come back learning a thing or two about an earlier unknown place, is universal. Also is the need to take a break from the people we meet every day and the workplace we mundanely show-up at every day.
Our Indian society and the family structure sure has its own merits. And the demerits are also not less. While the kinship is strong and the support system helps in raising a family. So are the clutches of control. Parents bring up kids to be obedient. Answering back is not appreciated. In their argument, parents garb it all under the cloak of care and for-your-good. But unless you let the child attempt a flight, you won’t know how high it can go. For parents with children having one form disability or the other, there’s a fine line to operate around. Too much protection and the child won’t discover his or her individuality. It will always remain a child and will have to be taken care off. On the other, pull back a hand to let it find its own footing. And of course, not to oversee the emotional toil all this takes on the parent. Amidst all this, letting the child choose a holiday of his or her choice is like passing a bill in a coalition government. Not a smooth sail for many.
You could say that I don’t know anything about disability since I haven’t grown up with a family member who is disabled. Yes, I haven’t. But you know what, am a social underdog, because am a woman. And as a social underdog, I understand the sentiments of other social underdogs. And to win in this society, the underdog has to rise up and claim what is truly his or her. So yes, I get you. Having said that, I know that you have more barriers to cross than me. So no, am in no way mitigating your battle by comparing it to that of mine, a woman.
Coming back to travel. The theory is that pre-historic human beings travelled from one landmass to the other to discover and explore new lands. This slowly led to the inhabitation of the whole planet. This theory, in a way makes us give more credit to the urge to travel. We need not shrug travel away as a luxury. In fact, it’s a basic human need. One that runs in us since pre-historic times.
The travel industry is growing exponentially. It is creating more jobs and more revenue for the government and stakeholders. The social media too is throwing up more photoshopped and filter-added images at us than ever before. We all want to go on that cliff and watch that sunset. Or to that tourist destination and eat that meal. Looks like everyone is travelling. Where are the social-underdogs as far as travelling is concerned? The ideal holiday-er is husband-wife with a child or two in tow. Fits the social description of the ‘right kind of people’. They snuggly fit-in in the social weave. We, the ones who are not within the structure created by the society, somehow flutter away the calm of a hotel reception. Because we come in all permutation and combination that disturb the simple minds and ask for a change in the rules. We travel with a group of friends and family hotels see us as hooligans. With a boyfriend and girlfriend we become the immoral ones and forcing the check-in staff to ask, “how are you two related?” As gay/lesbian couples, well, nothing like that exists in India. And as a disabled traveler, how can you be travelling?
Those who feel that visual impairment is a great hindrance when it comes to travel, have surely not heard of James Holman. In 1832, he was the first blind person to circumnavigate the globe. When he set out to circuit the world, it was unheard of a lone traveler to do so. Blind or not. He had what every blind person does, a sense of the surroundings through vibrations. A Sense of the World is the name of the book written on his adventures. The description of the book reads as: He was known simply as the Blind Traveler. A solitary, sightless adventurer, James Holman (1786-1857) fought the slave trade in Africa, survived a frozen captivity in Siberia, hunted rogue elephants in Ceylon, helped chart the Australian outback—and, astonishingly, circumnavigated the globe, becoming one of the greatest wonders of the world he so sagaciously explored. A Sense of the World is a spellbinding and moving rediscovery of one of history’s most epic lives—a story to awaken our own senses of awe and wonder. Holman lost his sight at 25, but he didn’t lose his spirit.
Like James Holman, we all just need to be more open to newer experiences. Most of the time the comfort that familiarity brings is too drawing and warm. One doesn’t want to deviate from the known. But how about testing yourself with the unknown. Try an experience you have always said no to. And not because it is an adventure sports. No. I mean the kinds that you think won’t interest you. Like a drag performance, or a painting exhibition. Or a trip to Siberia. Sign up for it. Newer experiences not just enrich our lives. Here the motive is also to claim our spaces in the world. So go out to places you haven’t been to and own the space. We, the social underdogs, need to be seen more.
Travel has its own set of benefits too. When you travel to newer places and indulge in newer experiences, you are out of your comfort zone. In such situations, the mind gets more creative, developing new neural connections and triggering original and creative thoughts. The new smells, sounds, sights and places require mental processing. You are giving a new puzzle to your brain to play with. As read on TripSavvy: After stepping away from home for a while, you’ll return with renewed energy, a new set of mental filters, and ready to take on the next big project or challenge. Call it a life reboot. Getting away for some time, even though it requires effort, will greatly enhance your attitude and productivity once you return home. Sure, you may have some mail piled up and matters to attend, but those are simple challenges easily knocked out. Breaking up the monotony for a while is a great way to reduce stress and give your life an injection of excitement. Don’t be surprised if shortly after your return, you’re already counting down days until the next trip!
Most travel also doesn’t go as per plan, such situations helps one face the uncertainties of life. It is also a great tool to self-discovery. Know your limit, know your expanding interests and also know the human being you are evolving into. And like Mark Twain has famously said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness”, meeting people from different cultures is also a myth-buster. Sometimes for the flair of writing or to make a story sound interesting, certain quirks are added in the process of story-telling. Travelling helps one shed these. Like India is more than a land of snake-charmers and magicians with the rope-trick. There’s a famous movie on this very theme, Ankhon Dekhi. Sanjay Mishra is playing the protagonist not believing everything at face value. It is hilarious, and thought provoking in the same breath.
Also when you travel, you are uninhibited, and will most likely be your real self. The fear of being judged is non-existent. Conversations flow easily and the probability is that you will open up your real self faster too. So the chances of you making real friends are on the higher side.
Some research before you embark on your trip always helps. When we were planning our 22 day Europe trip in June, we started planning from January. We started with drawing a broad itinerary, like what places we want to go to in Europe and the beginning and end date of the trip. Once we knew that, In February our flight tickets were done. In February itself we started looking up places to stay too. AirBnB was the obvious choice. We started drawing out an itinerary for each of the city we were visiting, because on it depended our length of stay in the city. One does get biased towards a favourite, like Paris had two days of doing nothing. In March beginning we booked our stay, and by March end our inter-city travel was sorted. In April we applied for our visa. In May we chalked out the itinerary better. And then obviously we had shopping to do too. We were ready for our trip by May end. The visa was a cliff-hanger, we received it 4 days before travel. So apply with more days in hand. And keep a basic list in mind about the things you would want to do in a city. And wouldn’t want to miss for anything in the world. These mental lists help in making last minute decisions.
Also when booking a stay with AirBnB, the reviews are of great help. They will tell you about the location from the tourist spots, good places to eat nearby and about the rooms in general. When we were in Rome, basis the reviews we had read, we asked for a room towards the back of the house. That way we avoided the traffic noise in the night and could sleep peacefully. At these stays, because the atmosphere is a little homely, you end up meeting travelers from other parts of the world over breakfast. We met a Pakistani couple in Rome who were visiting the city for their son’s wedding. We embraced each other like long lost relatives and she kept telling us stories about the things that happened at the wedding the previous night.
Another great tip is to carry lesser clothes than you need. That way, when you buy clothes abroad, you won’t feel that guilty and your luggage won’t be weighing a ton either. Also, do try all the local fruits. They are packed with flavor and juice, are cheap and healthy too. And sometimes just junk the touristy things and instead walk through the streets of the city. Sit at the restaurant the locals are frequenting and have a meal. Nothing lets you experience the city better than such walks. And the joint the locals are visiting are probably the best in terms of taste and value for money. Do ask your host for recommendations. They might also suggest what to eat, depending on your preferences. Like our hostess in Bruges advised us to not visit the local chocolatiers. She said that their chocolates were no better than the Belgium made chocolates available in supermarkets across the country. And local chocolatiers sold their produce at an exorbitant price too. Hence we bought our fill at the supermarket. Though I must admit, the display at the local chocolatiers were a sight to behold and very tempting. Mounds of chocolate cubes, glazed and shining, at times sprinkled with castor sugar or dressed with decoration. They knew the seduction game.
With so much around the world to see, I wonder why we are still bound to a 9 to 5 job. We definitely need more holidays. Like the famous meme doing the round says, you were not born to pay bills. Adding my two bit to it, you were born to discover new places, meet new people and keep evolving.