Living Life like a Pilgrimage

After my walk through the Camino de Santiago, I had the opportunity to be a guest speaker on the weekly Forrest Call. Please feel free to listen the interview here or read the write-up below by a dear friend and fellow blogger, Sarika Jain.

Inspired by a series of intriguing synchronicities while contemplating his personal journey, Krishan, on a whim, bought a one-way ticket to France, not knowing when he would return. The first part of the plan: to walk the Camino de Santiago, a 900 km spiritual trek involving steep hills, mountains and long, dusty roads; where millions of pilgrims (‘peligrinos’) had traveled over the past thousands of the years to reach Santiago de Compostela, the burial grounds of a famous sage.

Last Saturday’s Forest Call guest featured our speaker from the East coast’s quarterly Super Soul Saturday retreat. Krishan Patel had just returned from an arduous mental,physical and spiritual journey through Spain and France. He generously agreed to share insights from his experiences although he himself was still processing what he had learned.

In our super soul circle, we asked Krishan if he could relate his experience to a speech given by Nipun at a college graduation. Nipun’s speech reflected on his own spiritual journey in India, which he described by using the acronymW-A-L-K. All of us listened with great rapture as Krishan slowly shared from his heart what he had learned about himself, human nature, and life.

(W) Witness – During the journey, Krishan found, fortunately or unfortunately, that there were no distractions between his mind and body – and he had a chance to witness his thoughts and bodily activities through every circumstance imaginable: excruciating heat (which melted his glasses!), indescribable fatigue, expansive, blinding plains in every direction, loneliness, fear-filled situations and even joyful moments withfellow peligrinos.This experience proved to be meditation in action, revealing many important, and sometimes difficult, insights to him. It was also an opportunity for Krishan to witness nature and humanity in truly natural settings, making him a keen and appreciative observer to the wonders of life.

(A) Accept – Leaving the world of preferences during his busy life here in the US, Krishan found the journey to be both liberating and challenging. One key insight was that he had to accept his body through every circumstance, even if it meant overcoming his ego about what he could and could not do, physically. Another was to accept tough conditions as they appeared on the trip – relying on just a few pairs of essential clothing (sometimes wet when he put them on!), not being able to find vegetarian food along the way, flies and bees swarming around his eyes through dry patches; at one point, Krishan found himself taking a wrong turn and ended up walking along a scary, lonely highway; because he didn’t reach a village in time, he ended up sleeping on a bridge in freezing temperatures – a night which he will never forget. All of these situations proved to be tests to his natural set of preferences; slowly making him realize that accepting life as it came was his only option – this would be his path to joy.

(L) Love – During the journey, Krishan found instances of true love, one exhibited by humanity in a spirit of kinship and non-duality, especially in difficult times. During one particularly challenging stretch, his right knee began to throb with pain, and each step became excruciating. After inching along, he finally made it to a village, where he met a Spanishfather and son duo who had passed by him on the walk. Krishan honestly shared that he was hurt and even angry that they passed him by without offering to help. And so it was to his surprise when the father asked Krishan to stop by his room, sit on a chair, lifted his right pant leg above the knee, and began to massage his knee with a cream in the most loving manner, as though Krishan were his own son. As he shared this story of selflessness and true love with us, we found ourselves transforming internally, reflecting hard about non-dualistic love and the spirit of kindness.

(K) Know thyself – The trip allowed Krishan to gain a deep understanding of what his needs are. All the peligrinos and supporters along the path kept repeating the slogan “this is your pilgrimage, you do what you would like!”, reminding him that his priorities and needs came first. There were times when Krishan needed to be alone on the path, times when he enjoyed the company of fellow peligrinos, and times when he just felt like laughing or crying. In each situation, he found that understanding, expressing, and fulfilling one’s own needs are key to knowing and loving oneself. And when you love and know thyself, you are fulfilling one of the highest forms of service.

The reflections shared by Krishan inspired us all to think about ourday-to-day lives as part of a larger, spiritual journey. We were grateful to him to not only take this very important trek for himself, his community and family, but also for sharing his insights and lessons with us in an authentic and open manner, helping all of us reflect on how one can lead life more mindfully, with greater joy, love and acceptance.

Day 10: Delhi – Leave Indira Gandhi Airport/Arrive in JFK — Parting Thoughts

Sunday, my last day in Delhi was low-key. I had lunch with my family-friends who arranged for me to be treated like a king in Agra.

During lunch we chatted about Red Fort Syndrome/Phenomenon (as my family-friends have begun to refer to the concept amongst friends). Despite how Indian television shows may portray the connected nature of Indian families (i.e. Everyone knows everyones business), seemingly all the changes is forcing individuals to attempt to maintain the pace by working longer hours, traveling more, and being more connected via Blackberrys and laptops.  The result is that families are becoming far more focused on their nuclear families, rather than on the community of families, friends and neighbors.

Indians are known for having chai and snacks with family-friends all the time, but now these events are diminishing. Despite all the leaps in modern conveniences — expressways, Blackberrys, EVDO cards, etc. – that should make connecting with people easier, people are too busy to actually enjoy the increased conveniences.

I have been really lucky to do a fair bit of traveling the past couple years. And, I realize that I am most jealous of the community aspect that so many countries still have. Despite what my family-friends have said about the Red Fort Phenomenon, India still seems very community-based and driven – where people actually know their neighbors.

I recall when our new neighbors were moving in NJ, and my Mom went to welcome them – they quickly went into her house and closed the door. We have tried multiple times and despite the fact that we live 20 feet away, we have no idea what their names are or anything about them.

Three years later, I think we have to simply presume they are afraid of us…

Looking back on the past couple years of the many neighbors I have had, I can barely recall any of their names or anything about them.

I really liked a quote that my neighbor from NJ that is living in Delhi had on her wall:

The Paradox of Our Age — His Holiness the 14th Dalia Lama

We have bigger houses but smaller families;

More conveniences, but less time;

We have more degrees, but less sense;

More knowledge, but less judgment;

More experts but more problems;

More medicines, but less healthiness

We’ve been all the way to the moon and back

But have trouble crossing the street to meet the new neighbor.

We build more computers to hold more information to produce more copies than ever,

But have less communication;

We have become long on quantity,

But short on quality.

These are times of fast foods,

But slow digestion;

Tall man but short character;

Steep profits but shallow relationships.

It’s a time when there is much in the window

But nothing in the room.

I left Delhi around 10PM last Sunday. I was really sad to go: I had an amazing time, in such a short amount of time. I got to meet a friend right before I left on Sunday, she said there has to be a reason you came here all of a sudden. Looking back at how perfectly everything worked out, perhaps there is. I am hoping I will be back very soon.

Right before I got in the car to head for the airport, my Aunt gave me a glass of water to take a quick sip of. Whenever I have gone on long journeys my Mom or Aunts in the states have done the same thing. I believe it’s a way of giving good luck for a safe journey. The small cultural innuendo was comforting, it made me feel at home.

I arrived in the US by 7:30AM on Monday morning, got to my apartment by 8AM, and got to work by 9:30AM — it’s been a busy week. Thanks for listening.

Day 9 : Mathura, Vrindravan – Temples

I woke up early on Saturday morning so I could go to Mathura (the birthplace of Lord Krishna) and Vindravan (where Krishna grew up) – after all, he is my namesake.

The odd aspect of these places is that the cities are quite slum-like, despite their spiritual and religious significance.  Kesava Deo Temple, the temple at the location of Krishna, was well guarded. Due to utter a few stupid Hindu and Muslim fanatics significant religious sites require 24 hour security.
The temple was actually quite simple – nothing too large or pompous. There have been a couple places that I have found very peaceful and calming – this was definitely one of them.
I felt comfortable but a little odd too – I can’t recall the last time I went to any place of religious or spiritual significance without my parents. Usually they led the way with what to do, but this time I had to figure it out on my own.
I then proceeded to Vindravan. After driving this SUV through streets intended only for pedestrians for nearly an hour, we had still not found the temple I wanted to see (there are 15 or more). Eventually, I told Manoj not to worry, and we should just continue on to Delhi. He insisted he would keep looking, so I just went with it. Eventually he took me to the Hari Krishna temple. I am sure it can be imagined, but a majority of the devotees/worshipers were Caucasian which I thought was really cool. Overall, the temple was a site to see – despite the chaos there was something very calming about it. The one difference between Hindu temples, and Mosques and Churches is that the temples are chaotic: there are 101 things going (It’s fun! Very few rules…)
I arrived in Delhi by mid-afternoon and spent the rest of the day relaxing.

Day 7 & 8: Agra — Traveling like Royalty


I made an early start on Thursday since I wanted to visit the Amber Fort in Jaipur before heading off for Agra. The fort is set high above Jaipur. On the ride up we were stopped in traffic. A gentlemen, around my height and age, said, “Tour, Sir? Very important for Amber Fort.” I quickly said, “No, no.” and looked forward. He continued to follow me at the window, trying to convince me of the importance of the tour. For nearly 30 meters he ran in line with my window as we ascended the mountain – eventually, he ran into a bike and most likely bruised himself up a bit and stopped.

The fort was impressive; however Indian archeological sites of interest have a tendency of not being tourist friendly with respect to maps and history. Tour guides are usually needed, but I was in a hurry.

From Jaipur we drove straight to Agra. We arrived at the Jaypee Palace, my family-friend’s property in Agra. Within the first 30 minutes of being at the hotel, I am greeted by the head managers and the VP of the hotel. They have set up my itinerary for the next two-days and have arranged for one of the managers to accompany me to all the sites.

Anil, a manager from the Jaypee Palace, would accompany everywhere I went over the next two days.  I was hesitant about the idea, but there wasn’t really an option, as they had made all the arrangements for tours, a car, refreshments in the car (just in case I wanted something), meals, etc.

I arrived in Agra by 3PM and we head off to the Taj Mahal by 5PM. Anil bought me a refreshment and told me to wait for him as he bought the tickets. I was utterly confused but my family-friends seemingly took care of everything; I simply had to breathe, walk, and enjoy the sites.

Everyone told me the Taj was magnificent and words cannot describe it.  I just stood there and starred – the only other thing I have starred at similarly are the Swiss mountain ranges. According to Lonely Planet, Rabindranath Tagore attempted to sum up the Taj’s beauty: “a teardrop on the face of eternity.” Perhaps that is a better description? Beats me – just go see itJ


The following day we set off for Fatehpur Sikri and Agra Fort. They – Jaypee Palace management – had packed refreshments in a cooler in case I were to get thirsty. To say the least, I was traveling comfortably.

Anil could speak English quite well, so we chatted quite a bit about the changes in India. What bothered me during the journeys was how he attempted to cater to my every need: “Sir, does the temperature in the car suit you?” or “Sir, could I get you a refreshment” or “Sir, would you like to an Autorickshaw or horse and carriage” The whole concept of “Sir” when someone is older than me has been difficult for me to get used.

During Akbar’s reign of the Mughal Empire, Fatephur Sikri  was the capital. Eventually, they vacated the area because of the lack of water. The palace was magnificent and worth seeing. The most interesting aspect is Akbar’s palace because the architecture meshes Islam, Christianity, and Hinduism. Akbar had three wives – one Muslim, one Christian, and one Hindu (and 300 concubines). Given all the conflicts that exist today amongst religions, I think it is awesome to see the representation of all the religions in architecture from long ago.

Day 6: Jaipur — Poverty and Massages

Despite a late start for Jaipur, I arrived by 2PM. Luckily, Mr. T was no longer with me, so I was not slowed down further. Manog, my driver, knows the streets of every City we pass through. I suppose he must do this Golden Triangle journey quite often for NRIs (Non Resident Indians).

Jaipur, “the pink city” is colorful and crazier than Delhi. While entering the City, we passed camels, cows, elephants, monkeys, stray dogs, auto-rickshaws, cycle-rickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, motorcycles, scooters, pushcarts, and pedestrians peacefully using the unlined roads to get to their destinations. I was awed.

My hotel booking was at the local Holiday Inn. At the main entrance a guard stood stoically, when

I reached the door, he saluted me, stomped his foot down, smiled and then opened the door. I awkwardly saluted him, and proceeded to the check-in counter.

The clerk asks, “How many of you are there?” I hesitated, because I am confused, “Umm one, I mean two. Actually…I am not sure” In this brief two-second stint, I am sure this clerk thinks I am a fool. But, I am wondering where my driver is supposed to sleep. I quickly called my family-friends in Delhi; however, they did not pick-up. I told the clerk there would be two people staying so I could be on the safe side.

In Jaipur I saw three key sights: City Palace, Jantar Mantar, and Hawa Mahal.  The City palace is still owned by the former Maharajas family; thus, only 25% of the palace is open to tourists. The palace was pompous, as expected, but really didn’t have too much more to offer. Jantar Mantar, contains large astrological measurement devices (e.g., the largest sundial in the world). Hawa Mahal was a building created so that women of the palace could safely view the City and see what is going on.

After running around for a good 4-5 hours, I was pretty tired. I skimmed through my guidebook and found a Kerala Ayurveda Kendra (massage place) – it sounded interesting and Lonely Planet recommended it. We had to drive through the traffic infested City to get there.

At one point, we were stuck for nearly 20 minutes: I was sitting peacefully, recollecting the day’s events. I heard a tapping on the window, a Young Girl, no older than 15, was holding her famished naked baby. She kept tapping on the window and bowing to me and saying “Money…milk for baby. Please sir.” I looked at her for a moment; I looked at her baby for moment; I sunk my head into one hand — I was not sure what to do.

I had heard stories from my parents: Once, my Mom slightly lowered her window to give some money, and in moments 4-5 kids were hanging off the window asking for money. The driver attempted to speed away to get the kids to let go; however, they held on for a couple blocks.

The incessant tapping seemed like it had been going on for an eternity, but it had only been a few seconds. I picked out the first thing of food I saw in my backpack – masala chips – and cautiously looked around to make sure I wouldn’t have 4-5 children hanging off my window and gave them to the girl. I quickly rolled up my window. She looked at the chips and then started to say, “No feed baby. Please sir, money for milk.” This continued for nearly 10 minutes until traffic cleared up. I would like to think had I not been in traffic and had there not been other beggars around, I would have given her some money. I always think that simply giving money is not a solution — it’s like giving Tylenol to someone who has a broken leg – they might feel better for a little, but then what?

I continued on to the Kerala Ayurveda Kendra where I would receive a 70 minute massage for a little under 20 dollars. I felt guilty given that I was unwilling to spare 100 rupees to the girl and her baby.

Day 5: Delhi — More of Delhi, Art, and Buddhist Talks

On Tuesday, we visited the National Museum, National Galley of Modern Art, and Humayan’s Tomb.  I asked my driver to take me to the National Gallery of Modern Art: I asked, “National Art Gallery?” (with an Indian accent). Mr. T and my driver replied “Yes sir. Yes Sir.” I asked again, “National ART Gallery?” and again they replied, “Yes Sir. Yes Sir.” After entering, I could easily see that it wasn’t an art gallery. In general, I hear “Yes Sir” way too much, and I really need to learn Hindi.

Next, we visited the National Gallery of Modern Art.  As some of you may know I enjoy photography quite a bit. The main exhibit was Raghu Rai, he has this ability to capture moments perfectly. I think his photography describes India better than anything you can read. Please go search for him on Google, you will be impressed.

Lastly, I visited Humayans Tomb (the blueprint for the Taj Mahal) – a worthwhile visit and I was able to get a respite from Mr. T (I ran away from him and he could not keep up).  I then went off to my neighbor from NJs place, so I could join her for an art exhibition and a talk on Buddhism.

The art exhibition was awesome because it was the first art exhibition I had gone to, and because it was in Delhi. The two well known Buddhist speakers/authors discussed the concept of faith. I found it really interesting, if you want to hear more, let me know – I jotted down some notes and thoughts. Most everyone at both events was from America and lived in Delhi.

Up next…the Golden Triangle: Jaipur, Agra and (back to) Delhi.

Day 4: Delhi — I have a Body Guard?

My family-friends have kindly found me a driver and a Body Guard (actually, a Personal Security Officer). I am not sure if my parents expressed some concerns about me going around India on my own – I highly doubt this as rarely present any objections to my randomness. Nonetheless, Rathorg (I am not sure how to spell or pronounce his name.), a gentleman from Rajasthan was at my service (I will call him Mr. T for the remainder of my story). Mr. T. introduced himself as the former Prime Ministers body guard and some other credentials (Kung Fu, Tae Kwon do, etc.). Thankfully, he spoke Hindi, so I didn’t have to worry about making awkward conversation. Throughout the rest of my site seeing through Delhi, Mr. T was my shadow – wherever I went, he went.

I …We…Mr. T. and I visited Rajpath, Gurdwara Bangla Sahib, Connaught Place, and Lodi Gardens. Rajpath is basically a road in Delhi, at one end is India Gate (a memorial for Indians who died in WWII) and at the other end is the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President’s House) – between the two points are government buildings galore. The Gurdwara Bandla Sahib was my first visit to a Sikh Temple — when going in, they tied a pink cloth around my head. I am uncertain why the guard at the front chose pink; however, I am happy to say I looked ridiculous. Connaught Place is a shopping area with mix of high-end stores (Indian and International) and local retail shops. Nearly all prices for similar goods in the US are the same price. After having an amazing lunch at McDonalds (their veggie burgers are a vegetarians dream), I ventured off to Lodi Gardens.

Within Lodi Gardens grounds are the tombs of Lodi rulers. My shadow always was a step behind (by the way, he insisted on carrying my backpack and calling me “Sir”), I found the whole concept awkward and annoying. The grounds are beautiful and serene; however, they are not well kept. Throughout the tombs I saw markings on the walls: “Poonam loves Raj” or “Amy

A couple side notes:
…at the Lodi Gardens and other touristy attractions, I have noticed quite a few lovebirds. Dating, sex, drugs, etcetera are voodoo topics in Indian households, I presume couples come to tourist areas where they are quite certain that they will not be caught.
… I get dinner with my sister (i.e. my neighbor of 20 years in NJ) and some of her friends — one of her friends is Nepalese and tells how the newspapers in Nepal have matrimonial listings by caste!
… I go out to a bar and club with my roommates sister, Aqua and Cuba – I feel like I am in a high-end NYC bar and club. I had a phenomenal time, especially listening to a Thai band sing American songs (None of the singers had a Thai accent!)

Day 3: Malls and Expressways

Since Holi I have been scrubbing myself of industrial-strength green powder — I think I am finally looking like myself again.

On Sunday, I ventured to my family friends place in Visant Vihar, a posh neighborhood. They had their driver come pick me up (the concept is still foreign and odd for me). Basically, he waits outside their house, all set to drive them where ever they need — for the most part this is common amongst most households inIndia.
They took me to a couple sites throughout Delhi: Qutub Minar, Bahai Temple (shaped like a lotus), Select Citywalk Mall, and at the Vasant Intercontinental for dinner. Everything was interesting and awesome to see; however, the most interesting was the Select Citywalk Mall.
I couldn’t help but be fascinated with how nice this mall was compared to any mall in the US (that I have been to). I had the opportunity to see the famous Barista which is far more elegant than Starbucks. All major name brands we are used to seeing could be found at the mall, but there were a multitude of Indian name brands. My family friends were saying that these Indian name brand stores were beginning to pop up in Paris. Not to sound cliche, but it totally sounds like something from “The World is Flat.”
On any given evening there are teenagers hanging around the malls — window shopping, going to movies, etc. As more of these show-up throughout Delhi andIndia, it sounds increasingly like the typical suburban-American teenager entertainment. Given that American suburbs really don’t have much to offer but homes and some shopping centers/malls, I am worried what will happen if and when small Indian cities begin to develop in such a way.
My family friends own a very large company that focuses on infrastructure, energy, real estate throughout India. Their company is developing an expressway (6 to 8 lanes) between Delhi and Agra, this will cut the journey in half from 4 hours to 2 hours. (I would compare it to what happened for NJ, when the NJ Turnpike was created and gave quick and fast access to NYC for a multitude of NJ towns.) Alongside the expressway towns are being developed.
I think these expressways that are being developed throughout India are the best example of the change.  I presume the success of these towns revolves around the value of the land – the key ingredients being:  accessibility (easily accessible by some transportation medium: train or car), convenience (i.e. malls, grocery stores, etc.), education, recreation, and health/safety. If all these small cities emerge and have the same exact ingredients, I worry that the exciting aspect of India – originality and culture of each area/city or village – will get lost in the “Standard Operating Procedure” for creating a “successful” City.

Day 2: Delhi — Holi

Holi (i.e. “Festival of Colors”) was today. I had no expectations; however, I expected that I would no longer be brown but a mix of a dozen different colors. The premise of Holi is to throw colors (i.e. different color powder) on everyone you are celebrating with — young or old it makes no difference.
We traveled to a farm in Delhi to celebrate Holi with Dinkar’s family friends. On the way to the farm, I saw that  no one or thing — children, adults, elderly, cats/dogs, cars — is safe and no one can hide from the wrath of Holi. We arrived at the farm around 2 hours late: perfect timing, the party was just getting started. Family friends came to great us — surprisingly, they put color on us quite gently. The first couple introductions, I put my hand out to shake hands with Dinkar’s family friends, but I was received with a moment of slight awkwardness until we hugged.

The war began soon thereafter, little children were thew colored powder — deep greens, bright yellows, royal reds — and then ran away. In similar fashion, I found whatever colors were laying around and began the attack. Within 15 minutes, My pants and shirt looked like a tie-die shirt and my face looked similar.

Soon the real violent Holi began, a group of Green Monsters joined the party. But, they did not come in peace. Within minutes they had knocked off person-by-person, rubbing industrial-strength and semi-permanent (more likely permanent) green powder on to non-Green faces and arms. Within minutes the gang of Green Monsters had doubled, and I had streered clear and safe by standing by old Aunties. Unfortunately, word had spread through the grape vine that there was a newbie — me, an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) or more appropriately, a Canadian-Born- and American-Raised- Confused-Desi — that had never celebrated Holi. I was surrounded and minutes later, I became one of them carrying out similar terror.

After the fights were over, we had some chaat and played some cricket. After a couple overs, I was up at bat — I am not too sure if that is the right way to say it, but thats how I thought of it. I stepped in front of the wickets, and held the bat like a baseball bat. I soon realized, that I understood the rules, but didn’t pay attention to how the bat was held. Clearly, I made somewhat of a fool of myself but after a couple runs, I  got the hang of it.


In the evening, I spent time with best-friends sister, an Editor of The Mint, her husband, an artist, and their three-year old daughter, the cutest kid ever (she just would not stop laughing) — they had just moved to India a year ago. I arrived at their apartment, that looked like a swanky New York apartment: marble floors, marble counter-tops, and contemporary furniture.

We went to Cahn Market, the most-expensive commercial real-estate in Delhi, for dinner. We had our dinners at two restaurants (we were hungry?): The Kitchen, a Thai Restaurant; and the Big Chill, an American restaurant, started by an American couple. Rather than feeling like I was in India, I felt like I was out on a Saturday evening in NYC…

Day 1: Leave JFK/Arrive in Delhi – Excited


My long overdue trip (last time I went was 20 years ago)  to India begin at JFK. I was giddy and excited — I couldn’t believe I was going to India, especially since I only decided on Monday, got my Visa on Tuesday, booked my ticket on Wednesday, and flew out on Thursday!

My friends and family around my age said the most surprising thing is that “everyone looks like you.”  I understood, but I didn’t really understand… After a ridiculously comfortable flight (on Air India!), I arrived on Friday evening in India. Customs took me a total of 20 minutes to get through, and my driver was there waiting for me five minutes later. I headed towards Old Delhi (Daryaganj) to stay with a buddy of mine from Michigan (Dinkar). I was captivated, staring at everything that passed me. I expected to be overwhelmed by the changes that everyone has spoken about in India. But, I realized I had no expectations and no image to base my comparison. I was simply absorbing everything… Surprisingly, despite the fact that I do not know Hindi and many friends call me a “white” Indian, I still felt at home — perhaps because everyone looked like me?

The first “billboard” (more like a poster) I saw when I going on to the highway was a poster of Amma (“The Hugging Saint” — I thought this is probably a good sign, being that my family and I have gone to see her multiple times. The streets were filled with auto-rickshaws, motorbikes, and bicycles — most modes of transport filled with the maximum capacity plus one or two. Most streets have some sort of construction in progress and I could never find a single street sign (maybe I didn’t know where to look), somehow everything flowed despite what may seem like chaos to some.

I arrived at Dinkar’s place, got washed up and shortly thereafter we hit the streets to watch the first part of the Holi festival — bonfires along the street that symbolize the triumph of good over evil (I will try to find the details of the story)… We stood by a bonfire and gentlemen put a bindi on my forehead, and gulal (red powder) on my cheeks and I am instructed to put gulal on his cheeks. Dinkar tells me this is the only time that you willingly allow someone to put colors on you…