My Kintsukuroi Journey – A Camino de Santiago Redo

All these places had their moments. In my life, I’ve loved them all. ~~ The Beatles

Lately, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the places I have visited over the past few years. Sometimes it’s almost unbearable thinking of returning to one of them, even though I have loved most of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to visit. The thing is… going back means not seeing somewhere else I haven’t yet explored and discovered for the first time. There’s only so much time. Life is short. Doubling back and revisiting places where my feet have already landed seems like the antithesis of good travel plans. There’s an entire world to discover. Why waste my time revisiting?

Because CAMINO. There I said it. Yep, this is yet another Camino de Santiago post. I’m going back. The Camino is, perhaps, the birth of my modern self. Well, that sounds highfalutin. But it happens to be the case. I had an awakening of sorts on the Camino de Santiago back in May of 2014. I had just come out of three years of intense therapy prior to walking the Camino. I considered the Camino my last cleansing step in the process of moving from victim to survivor to thriver. I would leave whatever residual burden I still carried from the scars along the pilgrimage path and come home burden-free, finally healed.

The scars would still be there, but they would no longer be open. I thought the Camino de Santiago would be my version of Kintsukuroi (A Japanese word meaning GOLDEN REPAIR–the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum). I loved the idea that something could be more beautiful in the places in which it was once broken. I’m actually quite obsessed with the idea. I would walk the Camino de Santiago and fill in those last cracks in my psyche with gold. If pottery could go through the transformative process of Kintsukuroi, well…so could I! Dammit.

And I did. I came off the Camino feeling accomplished and whole. The golden light of the Camino de Santiago had invigorated me and filled my cracks with brightness.

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Even though I am spending precious time returning to the sacred pilgrimage path, I can’t bring myself to say it will be time wasted. Yes, I walked that way before. Yes, being there means I won’t be somewhere new and exciting and different. Sometimes you’re just not finished with a place. I think the Camino will continue to call me until the day I die.

Besides, it is different to see a place alone with friends you meet along the path than it is to start out at that place with a loved one beside you. This Camino, which we will begin in the September of 2019, will be experienced together. There is something to be said about showing a loved one a place you yourself have already fallen in love with. It will come back to life for me, I’m sure…but it will also shine new as a share it. I can’t even begin to describe how excited that makes me.

Some Images from my 2014 Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage

Imagine if the Japanese saw only destruction in the things that lay broken and shattered in pieces at their feet. Imagine if they didn’t have the imagination and the hope and the intuitiveness to give those broken things a place of honor. Sometimes surviving a fall makes a thing stronger, sharper…more precious. It might even make it more beautiful than it originally was. At any rate, I’m returning to the Camino…not as someone in need of a final healing, but as someone with eyes wide open to the wonder of the pilgrimage path. It’ll be quite a different Camino this time. It will provide for us. We need only open to its possibilities and wait for the gifts to unfold.

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Our September 2019 Mini-Camino…

 

 

 

Day 16 – A Whisper to a Scream Because I’m Goin’ to Kathmandu…

As a wise man once said, “I think I’m goin’ to Kathmandu, that’s really really where I’m going to. If I ever get out of here, that’s what I’m gonna do…”

To give credit where credit is due, that wise man was Bob Seger. The year was 1975 and I was 9 years-old and ready to explore the world. And, yes, I have wanted to go to Kathmandu ever since the first chords of Seger’s song.

Without further ado, this is exactly what we did the next morning. Our goodbye to Pokhara was bitter-sweet. It’s nice to arrive in a place with zero expectation and fall deeply deeply in love with it. It happened a few times during our wonderful G Adventures itinerary, but never more powerfully than with Orchha and Pokhara.

Have I recommended G Adventures in any of my previous posts? If not, I have been remiss. It’s a fabulous tour company! We were so impressed, we actually started searching upcoming getaways for our next adventure…while we were still on this one.

As we boarded the bus for Kathmandu, a street vendor approached us with fresh baked goods. By fresh baked I mean the chocolate inside the croissants was too hot to eat. An entire basket of baked delights just for us. Delicious!

The road from Pokhara to Kathmandu is not a long one, but it is an incredibly busy one. Near the end of the journey, there is a mountainside traffic jam that can take one-two-three-four hours to get through. We sat and we sat and we sat. I’ve never seen anything like it. But the reward at the end of the journey was worth the inconvenience of the jam. I’ve just never seen so many trucks in a row in my life. The road zigzagged up a mountain, so we could look across the divide at places and see the line of trucks just go off to what seemed like infinity. It took a few hours to get through the last few miles of our journey…

The reward for our patience was the Swayambhunath Stupa (otherwise known as Monkey Temple), which we visited prior to checking in at our hotel. Situated atop a large hill, Monkey Temple offers gorgeous panoramic views of all Kathmandu! It was founded by the great-grandfather of King Mānadeva (464-505 CE), King Vṛsadeva, around the beginning of the 5th century CE. And it is filled with monkeys. (-:

With all the monkeys and the music makers and the tourists and the bells and the prayer wheels and the mayhem, Monkey Temple is a festival of noise and a feast of sights.

That was a quick journey! We were in and out in 40 minutes. I could have spent a day there. I am drawn always to prayer wheels. And to hear the Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ chant coming from the little shops does a heart good! I see the words every day, as they’re tattooed on my left forearm. The chant swam up and down the alleyways and alcoves of the magical space.

om mani padme hum vector symbol aumAfter the temple, we went to our hotel–FUJI HOTEL–located in a sort of back alley in the heart of Kathmandu. It was a lovely bustling neighbourhood and a glamorous old hotel that felt like it held a history of its own…a history worth knowing. I immediately liked the owner, who spoke to me on several occasions. He was animated and really appeared to love life. He had, I am certain, as many stories to tell as his hotel did.

Alas, all great adventures come to an end. And we were there, standing at the end of the trail with our hearts in our throats and our lungs filled with the life we lived on the long and winding road from New Delhi to Kathmandu. Blessed and blissful and sad beyond measure, thirsting for more adventure and exhausted from our endless travels.

One last meal with the family we had created along the way, a group of strangers who found ways to connect and share a great adventure and form a bond of memories to carry forward into futures spent apart. Forever locked together as travelers with a shared experience on a chaotic dusty muddy pot-holed road filled with trucks and buses and pedestrians and cows and water buffalo and goats and hens and wheel barrels and bicycles and motorbikes and scooters and tuktuks and rickshaws and more.

Promise me you’ll never forget. Swear to me you’ll always remember.

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And it was like a dream I had while waking…

Day 15 – Sunrise Fishtail Mountain, Fewa Lake Boat Ride, and a Barefoot Mountain Stupa Hike!

Today was the day!

There is so much beauty in the world. The best way to see it is to GET OUT IN IT. Today, we did that. In so many ways.

First things first. We took an early morning bus ride up one of the many mountains here in Pokhara, Nepal. This trip was to take advantage of a perfect observation deck from which to watch the sunrise as it illuminated the Fishtail Mountain and brought that impressive snow-capped mountain to life. There’s nothing like seeing those first rays ignite the blues, grays and whites of the mountain. It was gorgeous.

 

After the sunrise was over, we went back down the mountain and back to the Fewa Lake Pokhara Lakeside area. It was a free day for us. And…we had our bearings. Ranny had taken us on a walk the previous evening, so we knew all the good eats and buys. And where we could access the lake and the boats. There were a few in the group doing the zip-line. I had my eye on the stupa at the top of the hill on the other side of the lake from us. We met up with two of the other G Adventurers and made plans to go hiking to the stupa together!

The Pokhara Shanti Stupa, or the World Peace Pagoda (Shanti Stupa = Peace Pagoda), is at the top of Anadu Hill. It’s a nice hike to the top, but slightly difficult if you’re a beginner. It’s 1100 metres (or 3,600 feet) up, with rock steps, dirt paths, gravel, etc. It’s very beautiful and there are many places along the way where you can stop and take some great shots of the lake and the city of Pokhara on the opposite shore. Extremely picturesque. And you can also watch the paragliders swarming around the hills across the lake. Some gorgeous views that make the difficult trek worthwhile.

But first, the boat ride over to the opposite shore. Such a gorgeous lake, and it’s filled with the most picturesque boats! I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them.

 

 

After the boatman took us to the other shore, we were ready to scale the hill (It’s odd calling it a hill when it’s 3,000 ft—but I’m not certain when a hill is considered a mountain). The first thing I did was take my sandals off and put them in my backpack. It was a perfect day for a barefoot walk up a hill to see a stupa!

 

 

It was SO worth the trip to the top. What a gorgeous symbol of peace the stupa is! It was a solemn and humbling sight to see. Glorious!

After our long afternoon of hiking, we returned to the busy strip in Pokhara and went to a little restaurant called Moondance. Food never tasted so good!

I’ll leave you with this message I found at the top of the ‘mountain’. Good advice, this. Always respect the silence. But sometimes it’s good to jump. Especially when fear holds you back. Just don’t jump off the mountain!

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Days 11 and 12 – Goodbye to Beautiful India and Hello to Nepal! Siddhartha!!

We were up far before the sun today! Left the hotel for the train station at 4:15. Day 11 was mostly about travelling. By train and then by bus. Just over a kilometre from the India-Nepal border, we left the bus and visited the Immigration India office for our passport stamps. Afterwards, we had to walk the rest of the way to the border. It was about 40 degrees Celsius and the traffic we walked beside was utter congestion. The trucks wait for days sometimes to get through the border. There must have been over a thousand of them all lined up and waiting patiently. Crossing the border on foot was the only way we’d make it in one day.

 

The border crossing was relatively painless, as we picked up our Nepalese visas at the Ottawa, Ontario Nepalese Embassy.

All that was left of our day was the bus ride to our hotel. We switched buses to one that was already in Nepal awaiting our arrival. The hotel was lovely. It had a beautiful pool, though we didn’t make use of it. The group had supper together and from there we called it a night.

 

Day 12 – Lumbini, birthplace of Siddhartha!

Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine visiting the birthplace of Buddha. But that’s exactly what we did today. After a short bus ride, we were in Lumbini. Once a place in India, it is now situated in Nepal.

We visited the Bodhi Tree, the Mayadevi Pond, and the Maya Devi Temple, which contains what is said to be the precise spot where Siddhartha was birthed.

 

After visiting the sacred grounds, we were ready for lunch. The bus took us up into the mountains and we had lunch with a view. There was much fog and mist, though, so it wasn’t as spectacular as I’m sure it sometimes is… but it was still a sight to see.

 

After lunch? The last leg of the day’s journey. We arrived at the Barauli Community Homestay in which we’re staying for two days. The arrival was such a lovely experience. We were greeted by the village and were anointed and given flower leis as we walked through the procession.

The room is lovely and the people are beautiful. After settling in, another exciting highlight awaited us. A bike ride through the village and down to the river, where local women awaited us with masala chai and cookies and crackers. So much fun!!

Supper was an incredible delight. One of the best yet. And just before we sat down for supper the community came together to entertain us with song and dance. So lovely!

 

Tomorrow is a safari, but we were warned long ago that there may not be much wildlife to see. One can always hope. Loving Nepal so far!

Day 10 – Varanasi Sunrise, Buddhas and Silks…

Our only full day in Varanasi began early. We were up before the sun and making our way to the Ganges by tuktuk once again. The morning is when pilgrims bathe and swim in the river. It’s a spiritual cleanse. Hindus come from all over India to partake. From all over the world, for that matter. All Hindus are to visit the Ganges at least once in their lifetime.

 

Ranny arranged for us to take a boat out onto the river again. We did the same route as the previous evening, visiting both the crematorium and the Dasawamedh Ghat. On the way from the crematorium to the Ghat, I saw what at first looked like some kind of effigy in the water. It was sort of wrapped around the anchor line of a boat. It turned out to be a partially clothed bloated body of a deceased pilgrim.

Nobody moved it, nobody really even acknowledged it. Ranny told us it would stay in the river and that it would eventually disentangle itself from the anchor line. He also said it would be improper to move it. It was a bit startling to witness.

After we returned to our departure ghat and made our way up it’s steps, we said our goodbyes to the mighty Ganges. And mighty it is. I had no idea it was as big as it is. And it has a mighty current too. Seeing the swirling eddies on the water’s surface reminded me of the Buddha dipping his begging bowl in the river and having it float UPSTREAM against the powerful current. Now I can no longer remember if that was something said to have happened or a dream. They are each the same, I suppose.

Ranny took us to a tiny local restaurant next for breakfast.Some would call it a hole in the wall, but there are enough of us who know these kinds of places are quite often the best. Luckily we have Ranny to bring us to these gems. The owner was such a lovely man. I had French pancakes (crepes) with rock sugar and lemon wedges. Sooooooo good. I talked to the owner about his baked goods at the counter when we were leaving. An American had taught him to bake and he loves doing it. It showed. His breads and brownies were picture perfect. I took a three pack of chocolate chip cookies for tomorrow’s train ride to the Nepalese border.

Back in the tuktuk! We were off to see Buddha gardens and a temple, as well as an ancient stupa. The streets of Varanasi are a blur of commotion, just like everywhere else in India. I love the traffic here so much! It’s a thrill to be inside the chaos. One knows one is alive when one is tearing through streets narrowly avoiding cows and babies and fruit carts and transports and bicycles. The traffic itself is beautiful music, punctuated by the ever constant and persistent HERE-I-AM call of the horn!

 

Dhamek Stupa was only one of the many sights we visited next. It seemed like a sort of complex. Ranny arranged for a guide to take us through all of it. We also saw the standing Buddha statue and the Tibetan temple. The deer park, where Buddha gave his first dharma teachings, is just behind this temple. Sarnath has much to offer and it’s worth the tuktuk ride to the area.

 

After Sarnath, we returned to the restaurant where we had dinner the night before. Delicious food! The owner came and chatted with us. When he found out we were from Canada he proudly tested his French on us. He even spoke German on our way out, ever ready to impress us with his mastery of so many languages.

Next, SILK. We had a quick tour of a silk factory after returning to the heart of Varanasi. Of course I bought a scarf. I don’t need my arm to be twisted to do so.

 

That was that. Another day over. Time races by so quickly here. We had supper at the hotel restaurant and quickly hit the sheets. Our wake up time for day eleven is 3:45am, as we are to meet in the lobby at 4:15am to make our way to the train station. Leaving Varanasi in the morning for Nepal! Can’t wait! Lumbini will be a highlight. The birthplace of Siddhartha Buddha.

I will be sad to leave Varanasi and I will be sad to leave India. I’m breathless from the beauty I’ve experienced so far. India just keeps giving, keeps opening up. Such a festival of humanity!

India – Day 9 – The Holy City of Varanasi and the Ganga River

Gangaji! Tonight we took tuktuks through the streets of Varanasi to the most famous holy river on the planet. The Ganges. Coming upon the Ganges for the first time was, for me, comparable to coming upon the spires of the cathedral in Santiago de Compostela for the first time. Only, slightly more spectacular. The cathedral I walked toward for days and days. The Ganges? I feel as though I have always been walking towards it.

 

Ranny arranged for a boat to take us out on the river and we cruised the shoreline to view the cremations taking place outside the crematorium on the riverbank. Hindus believe cremation on the banks of the Ganges releases the soul from the cycle of death and birth.

 

This reminds me so much of the Heart Sutra from Buddhism. There’s a place in the sutra that states, “no birth, no death, no being, no non-being, no defilement no purity, no increasing no decreasing.”

Buddha, who was originally from Lumbini (which was once a part of India but now resides in Nepal), also considered the Ganges sacred. He made pilgrimage to its sacred shores.

“Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

After stopping at the fires of the crematorium, we made our way back up the river to the Dasawamedh Ghat to see the nightly Ganga Aarti Ceremony… which involved chanting, incense, fire, singing. It was quite beautiful. We all released little bowls with flowers and lit candles into the Ganges while we were there. The banks of the river quickly filled up with boats, so many that people could walk from one to another. Many came through from boat to boat selling masala chai, flowers, candles, and bowls. The sunset and the darkness that followed were filled with pomp and ceremony.

 

Overall it was not a very busy day, as we had travelled overnight from Orchha to Varanasi on the train and we were pretty wiped out. After the sunset ceremony we went out for supper—tuktuks barreling through the darkened city streets protected from utter destruction by some unseen miracle of happenstance—at a local restaurant. The food was delicious, as usual. The blackouts/brownouts throughout our meal reminded me fondly of my time in Nairobi. All calmness and chill awaiting the return from darkness to light.

We then reached our limit for the day. Varanasi is glorious! And we were knackered. Only by knowing the city would still be there in the morning, waiting to entice us back into its swarm of colour and light and mayhem, were we able to return to our hotel and fall soundly into our beds.

We have seen the Ganges! We have dipped our feet in its sacred waters.