Broccoli Tahini Salad-Vegan and Gluten Free

I tasted a version of this salad at a local coffee shop a few years ago, before I was vegan. That version was made with mayo, but I knew I could re-create vegan version.

I added tahini in for the creaminess and miso paste for the umami factor, combined with apple cider vinegar and liquid aminos it creates a cheese-like paste that binds the salad together perfectly.

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The sauce contains:

  • 1/4 cup of tahini
  • 1 tablespoon of yellow miso paste
  • 2 tablespoons of Apple Cider Vinegar (add more to taste)
  • 1/4 cup of liquid aminos
  • Juice of 1 lemon

I whisked it all together and set aside.

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The salad contained:

  • 2 lbs of the broccoli crowns (I prefer it raw, but some may like it lightly steamed)
  • 1/2 diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup of raisins
  • Savory tofu (1 package of tofu drained, cubed and baked in the oven in a marinade of liquid aminos, liquid smoke and nutritional yeast)
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I added all the ingredients to a mixing bowl and poured the sauce over. I found it best to mix the salad by hand to really massage in the dressing.

DSCN1011 This made enough for dinner and plenty of leftover to be portioned out for lunches throughout the week. I find this meal incredibly filling with all the protein from the broccoli and tofu, plus savory enough for my fatty cravings with the miso sauce.

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Veganizing favorite recipes is one of my funnest challenges. What recipe would you like to see veganized?

CryoFix Wellness-Riverside

I have heard about Cryotherapy from one of my most trusted guru’s Russell Simmons. Russell is a straight talking, love spreading vegan and yogi who bowed his head to me once at Venice Beach while I starred at him open mouth, with my hands pressed to my heart to symbolize Namaste. He frequently posts about his cryotherapy sessions on his instagram account and I have been curious about it’s benefits.

I heard about a cryotherapy location opening up locally and finally made my way to CryoFix Wellness, located in Riverside, to try it out.

I had been battling a two day migraine when I arrived (which is a whooooole other post in itself. UGH.) and was hoping this could possibly help. I had already seen my chiropractor, had a massage, applied so much peppermint oil to my head to smell up the whole school I work at and even drank a rare iced coffee chased with an even rarer Aleve. I was desperate for relief.

So what is cryotherapy? Essentially, it’s entering a cold chamber that drastically lowers your body temperature. It’s the same concept as applying ice to sore muscles or joints. The cold aids in healing by reducing inflammation and releasing new oxygen into the blood supply.

When I arrived, Vanessa, the owner, gave me a thorough explanation of what to expect and walked me through the procedure. I changed into a robe and was given socks and gloves.

hiiiiii  Vanessa helped me into the chamber and when it was closed, I removed my robe and she started the treatment. The session only lasts 3 minutes, at the most and I hung in for the recommended first timers time of 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

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It was….cold. I am not a fan of being cold by any means. I love hot yoga, hotter showers and scalding hot drinks. To be blasted by cold air was uncomfortable, but Vanessa cranked up Justin Timberlake and talked to me the whole time. I was able to dance around and the time went quickly.

Immediately after the session, my left knee felt much better, even though I did not realize before that it was hurting.

As for my migraine…it did not immediately disappear, but I started feeling relief. As I was driving to CryoFix after work, I was feeling so sleepy and in need of laying in the dark. I still had a yoga class to teach in the evening, so this was not an option. After the session, I felt much more renewed and energetic. The strain around my eyes begin to recede and I taught my class with little discomfort, just tightness in my neck and shoulders.

The next morning when I woke, my migraine was FINALLY gone! Vanessa was kind enough to send an email checking in on how I was feeling and how I liked the session.

I will definitely be back to CryoFix Wellness. I can definitely use the benefits of inflammation reducing after a hike, run or just for overall wellness.

If you are in Southern California, I hope you make a trip out to CryoFix Wellness.

If Russell Simmons does it, you should too.

Nourish v. Treat Yo Self

I am a big believer in the concept of treat yo self. I probably take it a little too far, in fact.

I am in a constant battle to break my emotional attachment to food and not run to my favorite snacks when I have had a bad day or feel I should be rewarded for a morning workout. It’s hard.

The biggest treat I have been working to reframe is my relationship with alcohol. At the end of a long week, I thoroughly enjoy a cold glass of whiskey and sitting with my husband for hours and talking, connecting and venting about life. It’s a wonderful ritual, but it’s losing it’s luster. It leads to eating poorly and low energy that cause me to ignore all the plans I had for the weekend and cycle through a burrito eating and napping marathon.

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If this were occurring just here and there, it wouldn’t be a problem, but I felt it was becoming more of a habit than I cared for, so I completely cut out alcohol for the whole month of August.

I also worked on establishing some better habits and embodying the word NOURISH as opposed to TREAT.

Here is how I have been NOURISHING myself:

I finally scheduled consistent bi-weekly chiropractic appointments for adjustments and treatment, instead of waiting for a blinding migraine to force me to stumble in to the office. I tell my yoga students constantly how important it is to take care of their spines and here I am, with a slight case of scoliosis and full health insurance, only seeing my chiropractor when it’s an emergency. I finally got more proactive and feel better with more consistent adjustments.

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On days I do not go to the gym or yoga in the morning, I have been giving myself extra time in my routine to eat breakfast at home instead of shoveling food in my mouth at my desk while reading emails.

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I purchased a simple alarm clock and have kicked my cell phone out of my bedroom. I fall asleep much easier and quicker and am not tempted to check my phone if I happen to wake up in the middle of the night. It also prevents me from checking my phone first thing in the morning, before I even take a breath or meditate. This has been a complete game changer in the creation noise in my head. I feel like I start and end the day more connected to myself.

I have been stepping out of my quiet, agreeable comfort zone more and more and working my throat chakra through more assertiveness and Spanish speaking. This one is SO hard, but so important for me. I keep telling myself that although it may be uncomfortable in that moment, it leads to me feeling far less frustrated with the things I did not say or ask for. An amazing thing has been happening, it turns out when I actually work up the nerve to ask for what I want, I usually get it. The universe has my back, in that way.

I have been meal prepping like a champ lately and I freely admit, I truly do not love this. It’s a pretty big weekend chore that takes up about 2-3 hours of my Sundays. My kitchen is the hottest room of my house and standing in it during August over a hot stove is less than ideal. But, it certainly makes the weekdays run smoother and ensures were eating healthy, nourishing meals instead of eating out.

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I hope to keep this momentum on NOURISHMENT going through the month of September. I have invested in myself by enrolling in Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy You cleanse and Rock Your Bliss’ Seven Weeks to Bliss to create space and value myself.

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My focus on nourishment does not mean a treat won’t be warranted every once in a while and that I won’t be caught with a whiskey neat in one hand and bean, rice and guacamole burrito in the other, at some point, but my intention, my value, my time is being placed more on treating my body, mind and soul with NOURISHMENT.

I would love to hear from YOU. How do you NOURISH yourself?

Infinity Jars Review

I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Infinity Jars to review some products of my choice. I browsed their website and was impressed by the wide selection of glass jars. They carry an array of air tight jars ranging from glass screw top jars to oil dispensing bottles. Infinity Jars uses ultraviolet light filtering technology to keep the jars air tight and the ingredients protected.

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Infinity Jars sent me the glass roller applicator,  push pump and spray bottle.

The previous glass roller applicators I had I ordered off of Amazon. They are OK, but do not travel well. They leak slightly or seem to sweat in the heat. It’s not a surprise for me to unpack after a trip and find my whole bag smells like my lavender, peppermint blend. Not a horrible thing, but it can leave some of my items greasy.

In the glass applicator, I made a focus blend by adding in 20 drops of doTerra’s Serentity blend and 15 drops of Frankincense (I filled the rest of the bottle with fractioned coconut oil). This blend brings a calming energy to my work day, while still allowing my intuition to stay in tact, not getting too drowsy.

These bottles certainly block out the light! My only complaint is that it was hard to create this blend because I could not see how much liquid was in the bottle and how much more coconut oil was needed.

However, I was very happy with the roller applicator. I have kept it in my purse all week, and even in Southern California’s 100 degree plus weather, it did not leak or leave a greasy residue.

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For the push pump, I wanted to make my own hand sanitizer. I mixed aloe vera gel with 25 drops of doTerra’s OnGuard blend and only 5 drops of fractioned coconut oil. It was very important to me that this blend was not drying, as most hand sanitizers tend to be, but also not at all greasy so I can easily use it at work and not leave oil marks all over my desk or papers.

This blend took some time to make because the aloe vera gel kept congealing at the lid. I had to add in the gel, then stir it with the pump, add a tiny bit of water, stir and repeat.

With some patience, I filled up the bottle, pumped a few times and out came the new, non-drying, alcohol-free sanitizer. I absolutely loved it and will continue to use it through the germ-filled school year.

The pump works perfectly and is compact enough to fit in my purse.

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In the spray bottle, I made a deodorizing blend to replace Lysol. We used to use Lysol on our couches and on other fabrics/linens around the house about once per week. I wanted a chemical free version, so I added 15 drops each of melaleuca, lavender and eucalyptus. I filled the rest of the bottle up with filtered water and right away begin sanitizing. The spray bottle worked perfectly and the blend smelled fresh and clean.

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It even works on smelly middle schoolers! Does anyone else spray their children with freshener or is that just me?

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I was very pleased with the Infinity Jar products and will now use them, especially for my roller applicators, which I used to order a few times per year through Amazon.

The products featured in this post were provided by a representative of Infinity Jars. However, the reviews are 100% honest and completely my own.

Backpacking North Inelt Trail

After our return from Nepal, we spent about one week at home being punished by our dogs and visited by our friends. Soon enough, we were packing up again for a road trip. We spent a few days in Las Vegas for a work conference, then got out of the extreme shifts between blazing heat and frigid, tobacco-laced air conditioning and drove through the gorgeous, colorful expanse of Utah and into Colorado.

Colorado has become a second home. My mother in law moved to Estes Park last year and we happily visit as often as we can. Rocky Mountain National Park is only a ten minute drive from her house and we are set on exploring as much of it as possible.

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On this visit, we wanted to backpack for a few days in the park and chose the North Inlet Trail. We started at Grand Lake and ended at Bear Lake going up and over Flattop Mountain in the process. We took a day hike in the middle of our trip and made stops at the picturesque Lake Nokoni and Lake Nanita, totaling around 25 miles over 3 days.

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I have a love/hate relationship with backpacking. There’s no other way to say it; it’s really effing hard. Hiking at escalating elevations is difficult, adding about 25 pounds of weight onto my back amps up the intensity. Once a destination is reached and I feel traumatized by the process it took to get myself there, there is little consolation in knowing that the only way to get myself back to a soft bed, a warm shower and a cold beer is to repeat the process all over again. I remember when I backpacked the Grand Canyon. On the first night at the bottom of the Canyon, I was exhausted, but could not sleep, because I was absolutely terrified that I would eventually have to reverse the process I just undertook and hike myself out of the Canyon.

However, there is something so amazingly freeing about backpacking. I love having the only material possessions I could possibly need, shoved into a nylon mass of mesh. Backpacking is like a huge inhalation all the way through my diaphram, with an enormous, audible exhale. I feel re-set and re-charged with a fresh perspective and renewed sense of gratitude.

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In my non-backpacking life, I create tons of noise within my own head laced with worry. I worry about my family’s health and safety, I worry my dog’s cancer will return, I worry about being a good enough…wife, step-mother, daughter, sister, cousin, friend, counselor, yoga teacher, etc.

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I worry about completely non-trivial things. I worry over all the options that I have. Gym or yoga? Meditation or sleeping in? Venting or gratitude? And then I worry that I am a priviledged a-hole with first world problems.

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When I backpack, I forget to worry.

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I still think. I do some of my best thinking while on the trails. Sometimes my husband and I talk or sing. Often though, we settle into long stretches of comfortable silences.

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After the worry has hiked it’s way out of my head, I settle into a rhythm of only thinking about my next steps.

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One foot in front of the other. That’s really all I have to do.

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Even though this enormous burden is on my back, I can’t let myself think too far ahead about how much further I have to go or about the increasing difficulty of the trail. If I let my mind go down that path, I will fall apart. So, I keep my thoughts on my next step.

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My options in front of me are; which rock should I land on? Which foot should I start this incline with? Which path should I take across the stream?

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Sounds, sights and smells are observed, not created, manufactured, clicked on or scrolled through.

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Moments are completely experienced, not generated and on the trails….I JUST AM.

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Nepal and Namaste

Namaste. I say this multiple times per week at the end of yoga classes that I both teach and attend.

The light within in me sees and honors the light within you.

I easily recite this. I have given some reflection here and there to it’s meaning and it jived with me, made me feel very spiritual and enlightened to say it. I even bought a Namaste sticker and have it on my pink clipboard that I carry around work to show everyone how busy, but also, at peace, I am. However, I finally begin to understand Namaste as an actual verb, in Nepal.

27986716215_a4c2044752_o In both India and Nepal, you are greeted with a “Namaste.” It’s also used to say “thank-you” and “good-bye.” In both places, the people strive to treat you this way. They are extremely kind, helpful and friendly.

Our experience with Namaste in Kathmandu was punctuated by our stay at The Family Peace House, which we found through AirBnB. We stayed with Hemraj and his family and were welcomed to their extreme hospitality and kindness. Dylan was able to play with Hemraj’s children, we were welcomed at the dinner table and served tea every morning. This truly gave us a more intimate experience of Kathmandu and allowed us to learn more closely about the culture, get tips on sight seeing and sit and talk with our host, his family and fellow Family Peace House guest, Angelo. When our travel plans became frantic because we realized we could not board our plane back to India without a new visa, Hemraj and others at the Family Peace House quickly swooped in to help with recommendations, allowing us to borrow their personal laptop and easily allowing us to stay extra days when we decided to extend our time in Nepal. The Family Peace house arranged transportation for us when we visited Durbar Square and booked our Mountain Flight. I cannot recommend them enough, when visiting Kathmandu. Thank-you, Hemraj and The Family Peace House for showing my family so much kindness and taking time to teach Dylan all about the rubik’s cube and introducing him to futsal.

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Throughout our trip, we also made a few visits to Fireflies Hostel, up the street from The Family Peace House. Fireflies Hostel is excellent for younger travelers. It has a bohemian, artsy vibe and delicious food at the community space on the top floor. We stopped by for dinner, beers and excellent conversation with fellow travelers. We met people from Spain, Italy, South Africa, Australia, etc. We met Bishal, one of the owners who shared his absolutely amazing life story with us and helped me gain a whole new perspective on gratitude and happiness. I loved our time at Fireflies and the opportunity to connect with people from all around the world.

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I was a total creeper tourist as we walked through the city and took pictures constantly of not only the sights, but the people. There was something so captivating about the art around Kathmandu and the smiles of the Nepali. I felt like they smiled constantly and were always extremely friendly. I hope that comes through in some of these pictures. These were some of my favorite shots:

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I know I must return to Kathmandu. This trip was the beginning of a journey that will bring me back one day to the Himalayas, the temples, the momo and the light which has honored me and taught me more how to honor others.

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Kathmandu, Nepal

The sentence we repeated over and over in Nepal was “we have to come back here.” We stayed in Kathmandu for a little over a week and it was not nearly enough. There was so much more we wanted to explore and one day we will return during trekking season to hike the Himalayas properly.

We found the relief of cooler temperatures in Kathmandu, less crowds (and cows) and calmer streets. We found extremely kind people, beautiful art and Momo! We ate copious amounts of Momo everyday. They were the perfect blend of the Chinese and Indian influence that you see throughout Kathmandu. They were pillow dumplings filled with curried vegetables and potatoes. They were readily available and extremely inexpensive.

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We also found a city still showing effects of the 2015 earthquake, daily rolling power outages and on-going construction everywhere you turned. Make no mistake, Kathmandu is a safe and wonderful place to travel, even with the effects from the earthquake. The aftermath has not been detrimental to the spirit of the city or the people and with slight adjustments to Western comfort levels (expecting readily available electricity and smooth streets) it is a wonderful destination filled with temples, marketplaces and tons of outdoor excursions.

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On our second day, we set out to explore the city and visit Swayambhunath (or Monkey Temple). Monkey Temple is definitely a fitting name. Monkies were all over the place! One grabbed onto my scarf as I walked by and I had to yell at it to let it go. Another monkey tried to steal coconut out of my step-son’s hand. They are fast and mischievous, but oh so cute to watch.

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Swayambhunath had beautiful views and sights. We climbed the many steps up to the main stupa (shrine) and were greeted by hundreds of prayer flags, statues and religious art.

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A huge reason we wanted to visit Kathmandu was to visit the Himalayas. We came at the wrong time of year to get a great view, and so again we declared “we have to come back.” On our third day in Nepal, we visited the quaint town of Nagarkot which is known for it’s views of the Himalayas.

Do you see them back there?

27395439493_c17323f45e_o Neither did we.

The boys climbed up this tower hoping for any chance of a view, but it was far too cloudy. Still, we sensed their presence and it was nice to be amongst their majesty.

Next, we visited Durbar Square, an ancient square that used to be the entrance to the palace. Durbar Square was highly impacted by the earthquake and some of the structures were completely gone or had significant damage. Still, it is a must-see destination filled with ancient architecture and interesting temples.

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The highlight of our trip was taking The Mountain Flight on our last day in Nepal, which we had not planned on doing, but our time in Nepal became extended and we had to take advantage of it.

We had a change in our travel plans and a few hours of frantic re-structuring of our trip. We arrived at the Kathmandu airport to fly back to Delhi, where we would spend the last four days of our trip and leave from India. However, we were not able to board our plane because we did not have the Indian visa. The visa we initially got was single entry and because we left India already, we were not able to return without doing the whole visa process again. When we left the Delhi airport, we saw stations for “Visa on Arrival,” and we wrongly assumed we could get our visas when we returned. Why they have signs that say “Visa on Arrival” when you actually cannot get a visa on arrival (you must apply ahead of time) is still confusing to me. Still, it was a big lesson learned and we decided in the end, to not return to India but extend our time in Nepal and fly home from there.

The Mountain Flight is an hour trip that gives you AMAZING views of the Himalayan Mountain range and an up close experience with Mount Everest.

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Guys and gals, I saw Mount Everest!

It’s pretty implied that it’s HUGE, right?! But, WOW, I don’t have enough adjectives to describe how enormous and majestic it truly is. It towers above the clouds and you feel as though you are being sucked into it’s stratosphere. It is a absolutely amazing sight and I completely teared up being in the presence of such an overwhelming force of nature. I kept saying WOW the whole time and felt completely inarticulate, but there really was no other word.

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I would absolutely recommend The Mountain Flight. It’s a must if you are ever in Kathmandu. It’s a small plane, so everyone has a window seat and you are invited up one at a time to the cock pit for clearer views and picture taking.

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In between the sight seeing and Momo eating, we got a chance to meet some of the nicest people on this planet. I will share more about the beauty of the Nepali heart, in my next post.

Varanasi

Even at the airport in Varanasi, I felt the difference. There was a shift in the energy and it felt much calmer than Delhi. The cab ride from the airport to our AirBnB took us about an hour with traffic. The road into the city was more rural and there was a pervading peace in the air.

We checked into our AirBnB and headed straight for The Ganges River (Ganga). We chose to visit Varanasi because it is a holy city and pilgrimage for many Hindus. The Ganges River is the destination in that pilgrimage and a Ganga bath is said to remove impurities and sins from both this and past lifetimes.

After discovering and learning to navigate the busy Main Road, we headed towards the main ghat to the steps of the Ganga. As we descended the steps and the Ganga came into view, I felt emotional and overwhelmed. There was a beautiful presence and something very admirable about so many people coming from all around India, to be cleansed and renewed.

 Almost immediately, that spell was broken as we were quickly approached by vendors asking if we wanted to take a boat ride. Boat? Boat? Boat? It’s a constant question when you are near any of the ghats and it’s better to move down to less popular ghats in order to take in the majesty of the Ganga uninterrupted.

Still, there was a sacred energy among the crowds at the main ghat. We walked around and explored. We soon found a guide who would become a great friend over the next few days. Vishl took us to the cremation ghat and a priest explained to us the intricate and sacred process of preparing a body to be cremated and ashes emptied into the Ganga. There was a cremation in process as he was talking. It was beautiful and horrifying, and smelled surprisingly sweet, since either mango tree wood or sandalwood is used. I could not help staring at the feet that were sticking out of the fire throughout the priests explanation. The feet kept charring more and more till eventually, one dropped down to incinerate more and eventually into ash.

Every evening, at the main ghat there is a huge ceremony where priests perform offerings to the main hindu gods. It is filled with lights, incense, fire, chanting, singing and an opportunity at the end to light a candle and send it into the river for a blessing.

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The next morning, we were up early and at the river by 5:30 AM for a sunrise boat ride and bath in the Ganga. We knew we definitely wanted to go in the river and feel the full experience of the Ganga.

The boat ride was quiet and peaceful. We were able to see the other ghats and get a feel for the expanse of the Ganga. Our guide took us to the bank on the other side of the river (said to be less polluted) and we eagerly went in. Bathing in the Ganga was probably my most favorite and peaceful experience in all of India. There were tons of other people in the river, yet the energy was quiet, contemplative and pure as opposed to the chaos on the streets. After our Ganga bath, we continued our tour around the various ghats and then returned to main ghat.

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After our Ganga bath, we visited Kasha Vishwanath Temple. It is pretty common for pilgrims to Varanasi to start their day with a Ganga bath and after they are cleansed, to visit the temple to offer a pooja (offering) to Shiva. The temple was an absolute insane experience. The line was extensive and the narrow street to get to the temple was completely packed. We had to take off our shoes and tip toe in the street that wound up to the temple. There was a strong police presence around. It was explained to us that because this is such a holy site, it has been the target of past bombings in religious wars. We were questioned by the police before we went in and my husband was scrutinized for his beard. We had to leave all our things in a locker, absolutely no pictures were allowed, so the only photos I have to share are of pooja being sold on the streets as we were in line. I love these pictures because they look so peaceful and colorful. What you don’t see is the insanity occurring behind me; the water I am standing in barefoot, the elbow that was just shoved in my back, the police yelling or the woman crying asking to go to the front because she is so dehydrated and looks ready to pass out.

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After offering our pooja and being blessed by the priest, we set out to explore some less crowded temples and the rest of Varanasi.

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One of my favorite parts was finding an quiet spot on a balcony of an old building near one of the ghats. We had a nice breeze thanks to the curved arches and a gorgeous view of the river at sundown.

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The next day, I checked off a huge wish list item and took a private yoga class. It was such a fun experience. The instructor, Senile, led us through some laughing yoga and I learned a different spin on the sun salutations.

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We stayed in Varanasi for a total of five days. When we were in Delhi and people were asking about the rest of our trip, we were told we could easily see Varanasi in two days. Although the city is not very big, I am glad we took our time. We probably could have seen the main ghat, the ceremony and temples in two days, but with our extra time we did a whole lot of sitting, people watching and exploring of less popular ghats. We were able to better take in the sacredness of the pilgrimage that many people make from all around India.

We were able to witness many pilgrims shaving their heads before their Ganga bath for ultimate purification, since the hair is believed to be the dirtiest part of the body:

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We did some swami watching:

We saw some pretty sweet tuk tuk art:

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And we witnessed water buffalo taking an afternoon Ganga bath:

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And the many, many cows of India were all interrupted during one meal or another by Dylan:

27371001423_e10ce2b9bf_o I truly loved Varanasi. I felt at home and serene. It’s definitely a place I would love to visit again and I feel that I found what I was looking for when my heart begin to seek out India.

My time in India is still sinking in to my heart and mind. I cannot fully explain it into words, but it had a huge impact on me. I am still processing all the stark contrasts, the challenges to my privilege and adjusting my mindset about what the means to me back in the United States, the beauty I found in completely surrendering myself to discomfort, chaos and everything foreign, the amazing similarities I found even in a surrounding that was so different, but some things about people, hearts and kindness all being the same. India is somewhere I am sure I will I will re-visit again and again through my lifetimes. I am sure there is so much more the beautiful land has to teach me.

New Delhi-The Sites

We landed in New Dehli after 20+ hours of travel. Our plane was about an hour late and we worried that the taxi our AirBnB host sent for us would no longer be there.

Around 1:30 AM, we exited the airport to be met with our first wave of the heat and humidity, followed by the overwhelming noise of honking, yelling and constant chatter of people trying to offer rides. Our delirium and exhaustion gave way to worry as could not find our driver. We were quickly approached by quite a few offers to take us anywhere we wanted to go and after searching around and deciding our driver had probably left since we were late, we took one of the offers.

This kickstarted a scam we got taken on by what we were told later was probably the mafia who look for tired foreigners at the airport to try to up sale them on the sites around Dehli.

A quick summary of the story: our driver told us it was Shiva festival and the city was very crowded. He drove us to what he said was our AirBnB, but in fact was a road that was shut down and impassable. We were told because it was Shiva festival, a lot of the roads were blocked. We were taken to his friend, a travel agent, who called our AirBnB host for us (after speaking to him in Hindi first) and our host talked to my husband on the phone to tell him he had to cancel because of Shiva festival. We then went through a prolonged back and forth of trying to sell us a trip to Agra, Jaipur, rent a car, book a super expensive hotel, etc. Around 3:30 AM, we had enough. We were tired and hot and said we would walk the streets and figure it out on our own. Our taxi driver tracked us down and said he may know of a place. He took us to a dirty hotel that we paid way too much for, but we needed a shower and a bit of sleep. Around 5:00 AM, my husband gets a call from our actual AirBnB host who confirmed that was absolutely NOT him on the phone that was called and we did still in fact have a reservation. He sent a car for us immediately and around 6:00 AM, we were finally settled in to the AirBnB we had booked.

The whole confusion stemmed from this. When emailing our host, my husband said we would arrive in Delhi at 12:05 AM. However, India is on the 24 hour clock, so our host understood that to mean 12 in the afternoon, when he in fact, had a car planned to meet us at the airport. We should have typed 0:05 AM. Big lesson learned.

That was our introduction to Delhi. People scamming and people helping. It’s a big, chaotic, overwhelming city and you never quite know who to believe, but there is always someone willing to help you around every corner and things always seemed to work themselves out.

Our first day in Delhi was spent learning how to walk on the streets without dying, adjusting to the insane heat and humidity, discovering our neighborhood, shopping for clothes and finding food.

The food was pretty amazing and super easy to find vegetarian options, most already vegan or easy enough to modify. Some of my favorite dishes were from street stands. Our favorite stand was close to the train station, down the street from where we were staying. My favorite dish was aloo matar (peas and potatoes) in a spicy sauce. My favorite drink was fresh pineapple and lime juice.

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Our next few days in Delhi we set off to explore the various sites. I do not have as many pictures to share of India as I had hoped. The pictures I will be posting are all from my phone because somewhere in our packing and unpacking at different AirBnBs, we lost our camera card for India. I will admit to being a wee bit devastated about this, but am also trying to practice non-attachment to those pictures and give gratitude that I still have quite a bit from my phone. The camera card from Nepal is still in tact and there will be more pictures to share from that portion of the trip.

The first site we visited was The Red Fort, where the Mughal emperors lived from the 1600-1800s. The walk to The Red Fort was interesting. The neighborhood just outside this sprawling palace was extremely poor and drug use was prevalent. We wanted an early start to beat the worst of the heat, and even at 7 AM, I saw pipes in the mouths of people ranging from older ladies to young kids. It was pretty shocking to see a boy who looked my step-son’s age smoking and I realized he lived a life that my privilege could not even fathom. India is such an amazing place where the horrendous and beautiful co-exist so closely together.

The Red Fort is a work of art. The architecture was so unique and intricate. Curved archways, sprawling gardens and green space prevailed throughout the grounds.

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The next day we took a train into Agra, to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. The train ride into Agra was also extremely eye opening and challenging. We passed so many slums along the way and got a very filtered, ignorant and small glimpse of the conditions that others live in day to day. It was early in the morning, so many people were using the restroom right near the train tracks. I saw many people’s butts that day and then some. The train station was pretty overwhelming with people sleeping, begging, and congregating all over. We had many, many offers for a guide, a ride, a trinket, etc. Vendors are everywhere.

A word about guides. Normally, when we travel, we do not hire a guide. We enjoy to explore a city without a tour group and generally do not feel the need to have much assistance with sight seeing, purchases or just general getting around. Part of the adventure of traveling is figuring that out along the way, with the mistakes, miscommunications and lost alley ways along the way. However, in India, it was hard to turn down a guide. We were bombarded with offers and when you finally have one, everyone else leaves you alone. They are pretty affordable, knowledgeable and incredibly helpful. We met some amazing guides throughout our trip and I truly admire how hard they work.

We did end up hiring a guide and a car to take us from the station to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was just as opulent as you would imagine. It literally sparkles. It is an impressive display of love, devotion and extravagance.

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Next, we visited The Agra Fort, another palace inhabited by the Mughal dynasty. It was later in the day and the heat was building. However the arch ways are brilliantly constructed to create a wind tunnel and provide a nice breeze. Our guide was wonderful to make sure we did Taj Mahal first, then Agra Fort when the day was hotter. The Agra Fort has a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal and the grounds are gorgeously maintained. We spent a lot of time standing in marvel and imagining what the palace must have felt like when it was packed with royalty, when the dry moats contained lions and the water moats contained alligators, how it must have looked when there was a market occurring in the gardens and when the court was being held and decrees being made.

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The rest of our time in Delhi was spent exploring bazaars, dodging cow poop, stopping Dylan from petting cows when they were eating and trying not to get hit by cars. By the end of our time in Delhi, we were much more knowledgeable about how to walk through the insane traffic.

Delhi was a crash course in India. I am glad I visited. I saw so much beauty and so much horror. I loved it all, but was ready to move on to the next city. I finally found my place in India when we landed in Varanasi…

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India: The Land of Contrast

India was beautiful. India was horrible.

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India was unbearably hot and overwhelmingly humid. India had beautiful, tranquil breezes.

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India stunk like cow shit, hot piss and rot. India smelled like aromatic spices, sacred incense and sweetness.

India was scathingly loud with non-stop honking, shouting and zooming. India is filled with soft-spoken, respectful people.

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Indians wanted to sell us things constantly. Indians all wanted to help us.

I felt incredibly uncomfortable in India. I felt completely at home in India.

All these things are true.

Contrasting information flooded my senses throughout the entire trip. India was completely in my face and confrontational. I felt myself confronting my own biases the most. My privilege was thrust in my face. I was forced to acknowledge and contend with it constantly; when women with babies asked for money, when I brushed my teeth with bottled water, when I had to cover up despite the heat, when children asked for food and shattered my heart, when the constant heat pushed me to my limits of rationality.

There were times when I wanted to run back to my privilege as fast as I could. I longed for the clean sheets in my bed, my superfood additives for my green smoothies, air conditioning, clean feet, friends who were in the same time zone, my spoiled dogs, my lavender scented sugar scrub and roads where everyone drove inside of the lines.

And yet, once I surrendered to the discomfort, heat, filth and noise, I felt completely at peace. In India I felt constantly surrounded by love. I cried on the ride to the airport to leave for Nepal and recalled one of my favorite quotes from the book Shantaram. I finally understood what it meant:

“That’s how we keep this crazy place together – with the heart. Two hundred fuckin’ languages, and a billion people. India is the heart. It’s the heart that keeps us together. There’s no place with people like my people, Lin. There’s no heart like the Indian heart.”