Author Archives: James

The Pilgrim Plane

Mecca

Flying into Delhi was a journey of two halves. The first half was only half capacity, I had the middle row of three seats to myself, in a very new, comfortable aircraft. Passengers on this flight were British Muslims headed for Mecca. Hajj is the annual pilgrimage to the holiest city in the world for Muslims. Since this flight connected to New Delhi via Jeddah our path took us just 70km from the site.

During the six hours airtime many of the men on board changed from ordinary clothes of jeans, shirts and shoes into the traditional white Ihram robes particular to Hajj. The females were already dressed in the black equivalent. The idea is to minimise the distraction of others attention. This checkerboard spectacle was quite the opposite viewed in one sweep of the plane, like a game of chess gone on holiday.

Arriving at Jeddah I was lucky enough to snuggle down in the snooze lounge of the Saudia Air business class customers. A little persistence and a friendly smile goes a long way. The scene upon passing through security some hours later was an exploded replica of the flight. Scores of men in white robes and women dressed in black were seated in neat rows. The unique dress of the Saudi Arabian man adding a touch of variation to proceedings with the addition of a red and white Keffiyeh, like a gingham lions mane offering protection against the heat and the dust.

Home From Hajj

I sat to meditate in a quiet corner of the terminal, leaving just the right amount of time to join the tail end of the queue for boarding. The melee of this line was significantly Indian. The men were again, traditionally dressed in the white robes expected at Mecca but the women were dressed in every possible colour, pattern and style. These were Indian Muslims on the return home from Hajj.

Once boarded I was second last to be seated. A fellow Westerner, Leon, a 25 year old student from Berlin had taken his sweet time too. We were sat together at the door seats with the maximum leg room. No attention was paid to our tickets, simply ‘here are two seats, please take one and be happy’. A typically pragmatic Indian attitude to tickets, systems and protocol.

Leon and I immediately struck up conversation. We’d smiled knowingly on the long wait in the coach transfer from the terminal to the boarding area, waiting many minutes for a melodramatic thunder storm to shower its praises on the desert. An old lady garrotted up a long string of green phlegm, Leon looked disgusted, amused and accepting all at once.

Pilgrims Progress

We spoke on the flight of our respective journeys. Leon had been living in Istanbul for a year, navigating the challenges of a long distance relationship with his girlfriend based out of Amsterdam, figuring out what was next. His challenges felt familiar. I nodded, smiled and listened.

As beginnings of journeys go, being sandwiched between the two legs of the worlds biggest pilgrimage seemed fitting. Leaving the West and all the trappings of that life to again explore the country of Vipassana made even more sense. Synchronicity at work.

A little side note for the music fans out there: Kula Shakers album Pilgrims Progress is well worth a listen, check out Modern Blues; and the track Synchronicity II by the Police, see if they resonate.

Namaste from a very sunny Rishikesh. Yoga capital of the world, home to the Beatles ashram and a great place to swim in mother Ganga. #incredibleindia #visitindia #indiabybike #royalenfield #streetphotographyindia #indiagram #storiesofindia #allindiapermit #indianroadtrip #lonelyplanetindia #india_undiscovered #travelindia #rishikesh #yogacapitaloftheworld #breathedeeply #hippieinhills #motherganga #ganges #yogaindia #omshantiom #omhariom #harekrishna #harerama #harekrishnahareom #beatlesashram #johnpaulgeorgeringo

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Rural village near to Haridwar

Your Hair Is Like Thor

One Post For The Days Of Two

Let’s start with a caveat: the commitment I made to post daily is flexible. I’ll post where tech / WiFi permits but the intention is to write daily (which I am) and if the posts are a bit less consistent, that’s cool. You know how it is.

Lucy and the bike

Lucy and the bike

Yesterday we bought a Royal Enfield Thunderbird. The day was spent mostly in the cool shade of the small shop where Auntie cuts deals and orders young lads to fetch, carry and fix things. The bike was fitted with a luggage rack, new rear tyre and a couple of luxuries: a mobile phone holder / charger to make the navigation possible and a backrest for Lucy.

After a very calm day sipping chai and people watching in the Karol Bagh district of New Delhi, the journey across town to the hostel was pretty hairy. Delhi in the dark on a newly purchased motorcycle is an experience.

We made a plan to leave town early next day since roads would be quieter on Diwali.

Touch The Money

The drumming started early today. Diwali in Delhi is a loud celebration of the kind India is brilliant at. The repetitive, rhythmic beat slowly building as I rose from a deep restful sleep. The alarm clock of a fellow traveller began it’s chorus of electronic chimes to accompany the bass.

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

The route; Delhi to Rishikesh

We wheeled our way through remarkably quiet streets to join the Delhi-Meerut Expressway. As we pulled up to a stop light at a large junction a handful of guys dressed in black, with a mala of severed limbs and shrunken skulls with faces painted jet black approached us.

“Touch money”

They screamed in unison. I pulled out a 10 rupee note and handed it over.

“Touch the money”

Waiting for the red light to change we had nowhere to go. They persisted with ‘touch the money’ and I took what I thought was another 10 rupee note and handed it over. It was a hundred. The guys were cackling now. Like a gaggle of crazed hyena witches, the whites of their eyes and teeth shining in the early morning sun.

The lights changed and we jerked away, reeling from the weirdness of the moment. It’s hard to describe the intensity of the encounter. It’s just not something that happens anywhere else. India can be quite full on.

At 9:30 we crossed the Yamuna River, the wide lanes of the Meerut Expressway empty save a few Indian families traveling to meet relatives in other towns. Progress was swift on the sealed highway. The bike purring its way through the morning.

Our easy streak came to an abrupt end at Muradnagar. The reliable surface of the motorway long gone, hundreds of vehicles of every shape, size and sturdiness making their elaborate way on a narrow single track semi paved road. Indian roads are loud because the horn is used to signal intent; speed up, get out of the way, watch out being the main ones.

By now, a few hours in to the journey, I’d begun to feel the weight of the bike. Constant stopping, starting, swerving, stopping again, was heavy work. Indian roads are notoriously chaotic; the volume of traffic, huge variety of vehicles and the vast differences in speed make the cocktail pretty heady.

A man riding a trailer loaded with bricks pulled by a water buffalo turns right. He raises an arm, pointing his stick towards the field he’s headed for and slowly the long train of animal, trailer and cargo make the move. Approaching this at 60 kph with a fleet of other scooters, small cars and sumos, the result is a complete roadblock for 40 seconds.

Diwali decorations

Diwali decorations

Your Hair Is Like Thor

Our route carved its way through sugar cane, pampas grass and species of trees too numerous to mention. Small tea stalls lined the path offering plentiful opportunities for refreshment with sweet milky chai, veg pakoda (cauliflower and potato with spices in a light batter) and fruit salad with sugar and green chilli dressing.

In Roorkee we stopped for some fruit and chai. Lucy sat on a bench next to the bike, I crossed the busy road to get chai and by the time I returned a crowd had gathered; inquisitive, shy, eager and excitable all at once. Tall European blondes are a rare thing indeed in small town India.

“Where are you from?”

The usual drill of questions came barrelling out. Lucy replying with angelic patience, all smiles and naivety. We’ll be asked that question often. It would be easy to become tired and jaded of the repetition.

As a traveler it’s important to remember that it’s a great privilege to be free to travel foreign lands. Every meeting with a new face is a moment of genuine thrill for a local; a polite reply, a smile and handshake is the least you can do.

Rising from the bench and the glow of the early evening sunlight, one of the young guys points and says;

“You know Thor? You have hair like Thor!”

Lucy replies with a reference to vikings.

“Vikings are scary!” the lad smiles, shaking my hand.

 

The Plan

We arrived in Delhi one day ago. We’re now on the hunt for a very charming Royal Enfield.

Our plan is to remain here a couple more days to acclimatise and organise necessary kit for the bike; we need a pannier rack for the luggage and a couple of helmets.

From here we’ll strike out towards Goa. We have a 6 – 7 week window to travel south to make it to Panjim in readiness for Lucy to fly home on Boxing Day.

We’ll certainly visit Rajasthan, Mumbai (if only to go to Leopolds), and we’ll perhaps see Bude if the fancy takes us.

Beyond that we’ve surrendered and we’re open to the possibility of Incredible India.

Career, Expectation and Identity

In yesterday’s post ‘How To Get The Life You Really Want’, maybe the title could have been ‘How To Get The Career That You Really Want’. But then as a free lance what you do and how you live are symbiotic.

In a career, it’s easy to live the label of expectation. My former self was a ‘Sales Consultant’; helpful, informative and knowledgeable; confident, extroverted and loud; aggressive, persuasive and pushy; Labels can be useful, lazy or dangerous.

To be yourself, sometimes you have to shed the weight of expectation.

I work on projects but they don’t define me.

Who I am is not defined by what I do.

Who I am informs what I do.

How To Get The Life You Really Want

Choose a dream. Figure out how to make it happen. Work hard.

Enjoy dream life!

That’s the back of a beermat boot-strappers guide.

The work that precedes that sequence of action is a little more detailed. In my case, I just spent two years building a blogging business with my business partner, Tom; working to create efficient processes, hire reliable freelancers and develop relationships with local partners.

Now in place, that roadmap has created the circumstance for me to become location independent, free up time for personal projects and to travel.

To get to this point I had to figure out what I wanted from life. To know that I had to figure out what I didn’t want. To do that I had a crack at a career in sales, failed hard at running a small business and came up through my twenties like a cast member of Nathan Barley.

We’re all capable of living the life we want, but a) you have to figure out what that is, b) you have to do some things that suck, and c) you have to work hard.

An Inspiring Journey

Towards the end of the Central Asian leg of my Vietnam to UK bike trip I met a wonderful young woman called Chloe. Sat in a homestay in Samarkand, the Uzbek capital, we were introduced and struck up a conversation. A few days later met again in Bukhara.

Cass (Chloe was difficult for locals to pronounce so Cassia, or Cass for short, was decided as an alternative moniker), is currently hitching to Australia. Alone. At 19.

There’s a lot in the Adventure Travel scene just now about solo female adventurers doing amazing things. I once traveled with the girl with the super niche. Independent travel is a popular thing to do just now. That said, Cass really inspired me. Her attitude, balance and wisdom were beyond her years.

Cass introduced me to Alan Watts, Robert Anton-Wilson and Terence McKenna. These philosophers, speakers and psychonauts caught my imagination and occupied many hours of the following weeks as I travelled the Caucasus.

We also shared stories of travel and the road to come. Cass was headed where I’d already passed through; Central Asia, South East Asia and India. We learned new yoga postures together – stretching our abilities and limbs in tandem.

There was also a great show at a large restaurant in the main square. Cass is a performer of fire poy. It was a joy to witness. The locals spellbound with every revolution of flame.

You can follow Cass on her inspiring journey by following her Facebook page, support her on Patreon (the A5 photographs are beautiful) or read about her journey so far via a recent article on MSN.

The Art of Surrender

A Dharmic Number

In many of the Eastern traditions the number 108 has importance. Buddhists recite mantra 108 times, a mala has 108 beads and in yoga some postures are performed for 108 repetitions.

At the beginning of this year I set a strong intention to sit two hours daily. I was successful for 107 days.

Travelling in Georgia

On day 108 I was traveling in Georgia to meet old friends. Olga and I were taking the early morning train from Batumi to Tbilisi. A very beautiful journey which I highly recommend. Our 5am start meant that I had not the inclination to sit before we left the AirBnB to go to the station. Some other opportunity will present itself I thought.

The journey through the wide valley from the coast to the capital was stunning. The expansive view takes in plain, river and mountain all in a single frame. Truly wonderful in the early morning sunshine. The railway line follows the path of the river more or less to the principal city of Tbilisi.

Our arrival in Tbilisi was packed with typical traveller orientation; exchanging money, arranging times to meet hosts to collect keys, taking lunch with friends. By now it was early afternoon and no suitable circumstance had presented itself in which sit still doing nothing for an hour.

We made our way up to the highest point in the city to take tea, enjoy the view and wait for our friend Julia to come to meet us at the restaurant. During an extended lunch of local delicacies such as khinkali, lobepuri and kachepuri, the diners at the neighbouring table became increasingly loud and animated. The two guys worked for a Georgian mining company and they had apparently struck gold. Understandably, spirits were high.

Letting Go

At this point I realised that the opportunity to sit to meditate was passing. I looked out over the Caucasus mountains, their rugged beauty glimmering in the late afternoon sunshine, observed the increasingly wild scene unfolding in the restaurant (by now Olga was having a heated conversation in Russian with one of the drunk mining guys, voices raising by the minute), and I let it go.

I surrendered to the situation. Attachment causes suffering, to let go is liberation. What did it matter that I would break the unbroken chain of consecutive days? It didn’t. The lesson was to let go. To surrender.

After 107 days of strong determination, successfully maintaining my practice, I received an unexpected lesson.

Next day I sat to meditate with a smile, to start again.

Surrender

If we’re too attached to an idea, a belief or an object we suffer. Right, ritual and dogma are obstacles to true freedom. When we surrender we open up to the infinite possibility of the universe.

Surrender does not mean giving up, it means letting go.

Surrender is the wisdom to know when to go with the flow.

Surrender is accepting things as they are.

Surrender is trusting that things will work out.

There’s magic in surrender.

India for Winter

Why I’m spending this winter in India

I’m sat here in the local all day brunch place in the centre of Stafford, making use of the free WiFi, enjoying the pleasant ambient temperature and listening to the perfectly acceptable playlist (currently beyond recognition above the half term lunch rush).

There’s a good reason for this decampment to the cafe in the town centre; I’ve cancelled my broadband, given up my van and locked up the house. On Sunday evening I fly to Delhi. I’m spending this winter in India.

Why India?

When I first visited India two years ago I discovered a meditation technique called Vipassana. Since I returned home in the November of 2017 I’ve sat daily to meditate and attended a further five courses to both sit (2) and serve (3) . I’m somewhere north of 1,500 hours into this practice, not that I’m counting…

India is the spiritual home of Vipassana having been preserved in Burma for centuries since the Buddha first taught pure Dhamma, 2,500 years ago. As I progress along the path I feel drawn back to India.

The book and the blog

While I’m away I’ll complete the book about my bike trip. The time abroad will afford the luxury of concentrated effort to get the thing complete.

Taking inspiration from Seth’s blog, I’m also here and now committing to a daily post. I want to develop Really Big Bike Ride in such a way that you, my loyal readers, grow in number and are sufficiently engaged as to help as needed when the time comes to launch the book – you’re my super-fans that will buy the book and tell all your friends about it!

Daily blogging steers effort towards clear thoughts, concise words and conscious actions. This is an extroverted manifestation of the personal work undertaken in meditation.

Come along for the ride, it’ll be fun!

With all my metta xx

 

 

Last week I climbed Snowdon with my old man. We started out up the Llanberis path, the longest, easiest trail by dint of parking in Llanberis and not having much more of a plan than to start early and to get to the top. Dad spent half the time complaining it was too easy and that he wanted a more rugged, challenging terrain. Just about halfway Dad was content that this trail was actually challenge enough and was in fact more difficult than the Pyg trail that he’d climbed a few months earlier. After the summit and a sandwich we began our descent. “I fancy a go at that ridge” says the old bean. So we follow the path up on to Crib Goch. A couple of young lads scramble down smiling. “You going back this way? It’s a bit dicey… good luck!” Two and a half hours later we’re safely down at Pen-Y-Pass, congratulating each other on a great adventure. We’d certainly tested our mettle clambering over the two intense ridges of Crib Goch. Lesson: respect the mountain. Easy is a relative statement. #fathersonbonding #qualitytimeinnature #cribgoch #llanberispath #walkingwitholdbean #climbsnowdon #neverjudgeaclimbbyitswellmarkedpath #scrambledownthemountain #bigtimebouldering #exploresnowdonia #lovewales #respectthemountain #getoutdoors #easyisarelativestatement #enjoyeverymoment #blesstheweather

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