Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Pokhara, Nepal, Part 3: I Go To Hippie Camp

When I first met Melissa, she'd mentioned a yoga/meditation camp she'd read about in the Lonely Planet in Pokhara. We signed up for a 3-day, 3-night weekend course at the Ganden Yiga Chozen Buddhist Meditation Centre. It's a peaceful little center on the North side of the lake in Pokhara - the course included lodging, meals, yoga classes, meditation classes, and a short introduction to Buddhism.

Sounded good - who couldn't use some meditation in their life?? So off we went to Hippie Camp (a term I use very lovingly - same with the nickname "prison", which I also used incredibly lovingly to refer to the center, because they locked the gates every night at 10pm and Melissa initially thought an empty light socket was a CCTV watching our every move).

Cliffnotes of the Day:
  • Checked out of our lovely hostel to check ourselves into the center. "Checking ourselves into the center" doesn't sound so great, but you get the point.
And on the way, more street cows!
And here is the Ganden Yiga Chozen Meditation Centre!
This was our yoga/meditation/class room
This is the giant prayer wheel at the center. These are covered with prayers or mantras; and you turn them clockwise - which sends the prayer out against the wind. The merits of turning a prayer wheel a couple times equals hundreds or thousands times the merits you would have just reciting a mantra yourself.
  • Our mornings began every day at 7:30AM with yoga, followed typically by meditation (I can't remember the specific kind it's called, but the kind of meditation where you focus on breathing a lot), some Buddhist lessons, group discussions, more meditation, and another yoga class at night. 
  • To be honest, I've never meditated in my life and I wasn't that great at it. It's pretty difficult to focus your mind on one thing for a long period of time, and most of the time I was focused on how much my back hurt (because I'm old and my body is falling apart, apparently). We had different meditation exercises we were assigned; i.e. one in which you imagined sitting surrounded by all your closest friends and family, and then acquaintances, and then strangers - and spreading happy energy to them all (or SOMEthing like that, I couldn't really pay attention and my mind would often wander to other topics).  I guess I can see how some people can really find it an important practice in their lives. I think. Maybe I just have to say that. 
  • Buddhism lessons were also very interesting - it was nice to have a general overview of the religion all at once vs. piecemeal, and a lot of the principles of the religion are great - kindness, compassion, karma, etc.  The discussions were also pretty interesting, in terms of hearing people from all over the world's life experiences, thoughts, perspectives, etc. We discussed topics like the definition of happiness, love vs. attachment, etc. (*cough*HIPPIECAMP)
One of our discussion sessions, which were always accompanied by a delicious plate of cookies. The important things in life.
Is it terrible of me to admit that mealtimes were some of my most-anticipated and exciting moments of the day? But the food was delicious, so not my fault

Clearly learning a ton about meditation
Our weekend class photo - we represented the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Spain, Canada, and the USA
  • Overall, the weekend was a very enlightening experience (PUN INTENDED). I'm not 100% sure I'm continuing down a path of Buddhism and meditation, but it's always interesting doing something outside the box!
  • Melissa and I had one last day in Pokhara the morning we graduated from hippie camp, which we decided to hike up to a famous pagoda, called the World Peace Pagoda. The World Peace Pagoda sits atop a mountain overlooking Pokhara and the lake. 

First step was hiring a boat to take us out to the base of the stupa
We're ready....for you to row us across
  • After arriving to the base of the stupa, getting to it involved an additional hike up tons of stairs that took about an hour. But the views from the top were incredibly pretty.
Pretty views
And here we've arrived at the pagoda!  I guess I forgot to mention that on the way to the pagoda, we ran into a guy from our hostel, Toby from the UK, who joined us for the hike
Some of the views from the pagoda - the city of Pokhara
And there's tons of flower gardens all around
Gold Buddha inside the pagoda
  • For the way down, we decided to take an alternate route, which would take us directly back to town vs. going to the dock and taking a boat back to town. Obviously, this route took a lot longer - but it was so picturesque, and amazing because it took us through small towns and we passed by tons of locals and children heading home from school, etc.
Starting our descent
The day was hazy, which made for gorgeous hazy mountain photos (it's a thing)
More hazy mountain photos
And on the way down, I fell in love with this dog, who was so super friendly and followed us for a bit
Sun begins to set
Partway down, a local (very drunk - impressive for 4:30pm) came and walked with us and really wanted to show us his home and meet his family, etc.
One last view of Pokhara
  • Later that evening, Melissa and I met back up with Quico (who had been trekking during both our rafting excursion and hippie camp), and then also Jessica, a girl from the Netherlands that we had met at hippie camp. We all went out for a drink. Jessica is based in Pokhara for 6 months doing her masters thesis on high-altitude farming/agriculture, so she's basically a local. We went to a bar that had a live band (tons of bars here do) and bordered the lake. 

Jessica informed us that a popular Nepalese thing to do is to take selfies with the band while they're playing on stage, usually drunkenly singing along and with shirts off.  We did what we could (with shirts on, and after they'd finished playing) - close enough!

Moment(s) of the Day:
On the way out of the meditation center, Melissa and I were trying to get a cab back to the hostel - but the cabs were trying to charge extortionate prices, per usual. We started walking instead, and beside us, pulls this tiny little truck:

It's a father and son and they were hauling bags of rice - they'd heard our price we wanted to pay when we were negotiating with the cab drivers, and offered to take us for that amount. So with that, Melissa and I found ourselves sitting on bags of rice in the storage of a tiny truck, being escorted across town.

Chillin in the back
Should we feel safe that we were basically caged in?

Later that evening, on the way home from the Peace Pagoda, the walk was much more extensive than expected (note to self: a local telling you something takes 20 minutes by walking means it takes an hour). A group of men driving bags of cement with a tractor engine passed by, and emboldened by our previous experience, Melissa stuck her thumb out.  And they stopped for us!  And that is how Toby, Melissa, and I found ourselves sitting on an open-air hauling mechanism on (very dusty) bags of cement, being driven by tractor back home.  I offered them money after we were dropped off (it was pretty far), and they refused - it was the nicest! I had to insist before one of them finally, begrudgingly, accepted. 

Just being hauled across town on bags of cement. Every local we passed on the way stared at us and then gave us a huge thumbs up
My new construction friend. And the blurriness of the photo should give some indication as to how smooth the ride was

Fun Facts of the Day:
  • People in Nepal actually say "Namaste"!  Like the yoga greeting, but in real life!  And you say it a lot!  Usually (but not always) accompanied by putting your hands in a quick prayer position.
  • I've been using "street cows" as a term to basically reference cows on streets - but it's an actual thing!  As cows are sacred to Hindus, people often just let their cows loose if they become too old, crippled, or develop problems - because they won't kill them. These cows just chill in the streets and rely on the kindness of strangers and locals to feed them. Like street dogs!

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