I know most people try to plan their new year and do their resolutions before the actual start of New Year, but I always do them in the beginning of January :) Of course I do start thinking when the end of the year approaches, but I find that holiday season is always too hectic, too full of things to do, people to visit and often includes a fair amount of travel (especially when you’re an expat). And my experience is that if you’re serious with your goals then you will need quality time to reflect, analyze and plan. You’ll need space and time where you could be uninterrupted and allow yourself to not only to think, but also to feel what is it that you want in life next.
As the holidays are ended hopefully things are calmer now (and the pressure of suddenly becoming perfect from 1st of January is gone, too) and I invite you to join me on this session- to peek into your dreams, allow yourself to think big and create some realistic steps to achieve what you want.
*A block of time where you’ll be uninterrupted (or you can do this with your partner or friend, that’s fine, too as long as you’re both focused on the process);
*Notebook/your journal & pen + colorful pencil/markers if you like to highlight/organize things;
*No phone/social media notifications etc.- though some ambient music could be useful;
We’ll start with last year’s review to see what have happened and to decide which things should change, then we will move to the goal setting for the following year. Read the questions and allow yourself to think about it with an open mind & heart and most important- be honest with yourself. In the end it’s your life and you should be fully happy with it.
Last year’s review & lessons:
1) What worked really well this year? Why? What made you feel alive, filled with joy, enthusiasm and inspiration? How can you add more of this into your life? Can you come up with at least 20 ways to add more joy/health/happiness to your life? What would REALLY make a difference in your life? Why?
Don’t think about limitations (lack of money, time etc.) at this phase, just think what would really positively impact your life. Things you want to add to your life can be big or small, they just have to be meaningful for you. Both things like having your nails done & wearing organic perfumes daily to make you feel feminine & beautiful and starting to volunteer at local shelter to feel connected & meaningful are perfectly fine, choose what YOU need at this moment in life.
2) What were the things that didn’t work well this year? That felt draining, stuck, stressful, forced? What should you do differently to avoid repeating these mistakes?
Where did you invest time with no/poor results?
Be willing to let go of things, even if it’s scary. Letting go makes space for new & better things in your life. We rarely think of that, but life is short, so always aim for what lights you up. Most of the “shoulds” we create ourselves and we can change them.
New year planning:
For the first step, let’s get the big picture. Let’s relax and let our imagination go wild and see what feels right & what would really excite you:
Imagine it’s the end of 2016. In one year, where do you want to be? What matters to you? Imagine that you thought really big this year and everything went according to your wishes- where would you be in one year? WHO would you be? Allow yourself to think and dream without limitations, I can tell you that since I started doing this few years ago most of the things came true, though they seemed wildly unbelievable in the beginning :)
Now when we have a bigger vision let’s move to more details. These questions were designed to get you more clarity in various areas of your life:
How do I want to improve? What books to read, courses to take, seminars/retreats to attend? What skills to gain? What mentors/coaches to hire? What habits to change/add?
What do I want to achieve in my career? How do I want to help & impact people? How much do I want to earn- monthly, yearly? Where do I want my income to come from (what type of work and clients)? What would I consider a “success” (not by society norms, but what would make YOU happy/proud/excited)?
How do I want to spend my freetime? What places to visit, things to see and experience? With whom I want to spend my time and how?
What are my health & wellbeing goals? What habits do I want to quit or add? What would make the biggest impact? What would feel right? What do you know deep there that you deserve, but don’t commit to?
How do I want my relationships to be? With my partner/family/friends? How do I want to feel & make others feel? Who is really important to me? How can I show them this?
Who can I help? How can I give? My time/resources/love/skills? What change do I want to see in the world and what can I personally do to achieve it?
Now go again through each category and ask this– what should I do to achieve this- daily, weekly, monthly? If that’s helpful, put specific things on the calendar (use Google calendar if you don’t have real one) Don’t underestimate small, incremental steps- this is what brings you closer to your goals, day by day. And just start doing them- order or take form the library the book you want to read next month, plan the gathering with friends you want to see but haven’t seen for months, put the blocks of time in your calendar for new habit you want to take. Or make a donation of old clothes to those who need it, or book a ticket to the conference you want to attend- you get the point :)…
I know it’s a pretty big exercise- if you feel it’s too overwhelming you can do it in parts- last year review, big vision and then different areas of live- this is how I personally did it, but then again I’m just really used to write A LOT and analyze all things in my life on paper, so that would be a huge exercise for me to finish in one go. The whole thing of dreaming & planning your life can feel strange at the beginning, but from my experience it brings so much growth, clarity and new possibilities to your life. Suddenly you’re not just blindly doing anything, trying to keep up with urgent (but not necessarily important to you) tasks of the day- now you have a direction and YOUR goals to make your life the way you want. With this and continuous everyday actions everything is possible :)
I hope this was helpful to you and I would love to hear from you at least one of your goals for next year in the comments bellow! :)
With love & inspiration,
Most of the times I start my day with few cups of warm lemon water, but when colder season comes I tend to switch to warming & detoxifying turmeric-ginger tea. I must confess that I’m a huge fan of ginger in all kinds of forms (in main courses and baked goods, drinks and sauces…), so this is just another opportunity to use it :) In this case it’s not only great because of its ginger taste, but it also has LOTS of health benefits and the bright orange color of this tea is perfect to balance the moody, sunless days of winter. Due to ginger’s energizing properties and spicy, strong taste this drink works well instead of coffee, too (imagine no side effects and plenty of benefits, each morning!). I love drinking it before my morning meditation and it helps me to start the day warm, fully awake & concentrated.
Both ginger and turmeric is highly used in Indian cuisine and many other Asian cuisines and they have been praised for centuries for their medicinal properties. Here are some of the healing properties of them:
Heating & activating;
Improves circulation and digestion;
Helps to fight certain kinds of cancer;
Detoxify the liver;
Antioxidant & anti-inflammatory
You can read more about ginger health benefits here and about turmeric health benefits here.
You can buy ginger and turmeric fresh as roots or dried and ground as powder. Fresh is always better, but turmeric in ground form works for this recipe, too. For fresh roots check Asian markets or organic food shops, though ginger is more common and usually can be found in regular supermarkets, too. Personally I really don’t like strong taste of dried ginger in teas, but some people like it, so you can try and and see for yourself. Powdered ginger works better for sweets/baked goods.
* 800 ml of water
* Fresh ginger root- 1-2 cm length piece;
* Fresh turmeric root 1-2 cm length piece or 1/2 tsp turmeric powder;
* Few pinches of black pepper, preferably freshly ground;
* Few crushed cardamon pods (optional)
* Juice of 1/2 lemon (preferably organic)
*1 Tbsp raw honey (or according to your taste)
* Small pinch of chilly/cayenne powder (optional)
If possible, use organic ingredients.
It’s very important to use black pepper in this drink because substance called piperine (which is found in black pepper) helps to absorb curcumin (turmeric’s main healing compound) properly. It enhances absorption of curcumin by 2000%.
Pour the water in a pot and bring to boil. Add pinches of black pepper, cardamon pods and chilly if you use them. Wash ginger and turmeric roots & cut them in thin slices and add to the pot, too. Boil for 7-10 min., then set aside to cool down. When the tea is not hot anymore (it should be still pretty warm, but not hot) squeeze in lemon juice & add honey, mix until it’s dissolved. Pour the tea through a strainer to cups & enjoy :)
Warning: turmeric has gorgeous color, but it is VERY staining, fresh even more than powdered. Your hands and nails will wash after some time, but be careful with kitchen surfaces & clothes. Strangely enough it doesn’t stain teeth and funnily enough some people even use it for whitening their teeth :)I’m heading to Morocco tomorrow- it’s my first time in Africa and I’m really looking forward to warm weather, new adventures and vivid colors. And as we come to the end of this year I’ll also be doing some last year’s reviews and planning for the coming year. I’ll share the framework I use for that in the next blog post. Until then- enjoy your holidays and I wish you happy & magical New year celebration!
With love & inspiration,
Those who know me know well that I like running and there were periods in my life when I was seriously hooked on it, especially about 4 years ago when my husband and I trained for our first marathon. We used to run few times a week for anything from 10 to 25 km, enjoying the conversations, fresh air (and fresh ideas) and the high that inevitably comes with running. We ran the marathon, afterwards my husband ran a second one (I ran a half-marathon then) and we felt that we in a way achieved our goals and we lost our interest a bit. So from then I would run sometimes, but it never was really consistent anymore (I do all kinds of other sports so I don’t feel the pressure to run consistently to be in shape), so when two weeks ago I started running again each morning it was surprising even for me. After few years of running just sometimes I wasn’t in that good shape for running and it’s November, mornings are dark and it’s quite chilly outside- seems like many reasons (excuses ;) ) to not run. To be honest I started it not because I wanted, but because of the busy schedule which didn’t left me with enough time to go to the gym or yoga and I felt the need to do ANYTHING active to stay healthy & sane. On 3rd day in my daily running I had a coaching session with my lovely coach Hanna and we talked about creating habits that last and feeling good & healthy when you’re on busy schedule. We decided to make it into a habit- running daily, each morning, no excuses allowed for minimum of two weeks :-) I’m proud to say I managed to do this and that this experiment was very successful :-)
So I ran daily, each morning before breakfast for 15 or (most of the time) 30 minutes. To be honest I expected I would get too tired, too bored, it will be too cold or rainy or… You know the way mind works, it imagines things far worse than they are in reality :-)
This seemingly simple act of running daily gave quite a few lessons:
1. The most difficult part is not to run physically, that’s actually easy. The difficult part is to convince your mind and use your willpower to start doing it. And when you don’t need to decide will you do it today or tomorrow it makes things SO much easier. It’s the possibility of not doing it today that makes the whole thing difficult and when you just start considering that option your mind will find all the reasons to do it tomorrow :-) I was surprised, but I found it so much easier to run daily, than to run 3 times a week. Give it a try :-) (this applies to any habit, not only running obviously)
2. Sleep is overrated :-) I’m a bit joking here, I definitely lack some sleep after these days, because my schedule was busy and I skipped some sleep and woke up early to run, but if you want to do something, you will find time. And morning is the time when you have the most willpower to do “difficult” things.
3. As I already had one must-do habit for the day it was easier to add another habits- I meditated daily before the run almost all days. You train your mind that this happens after that, no questioning and no other options :-) I also drank more fresh juices & ate better (except on the days when I was on photo shoots, I still need to work on that…), because I knew that with everyday exercise my body needs proper fuel.
4. You can learn quite a lot while running daily. See my previous post about learning via audio books & podcasts and “5 AM miracle” podcast for early morning runs is just perfect!
5. Increased inspiration & energy is a very nice by-product of daily run. There’s something magical and inspiring about being up so early, seeing the sunrise, being in nature and listening to audios you like and I felt full of ideas and with much more energy than normally. And this feeling of being fully alive is what I crave the most in life.
6. You get a bit sore muscles, but much less than I expected (thankfully bath with Epson salt & massage with sesame oil and essential oils help with that). And you get nice abs :-)
7. The first week was easy and really joyful, but the second week I had few days of photo shoots where I needed to be on location early and this obviously makes things more difficult. My sleep schedule suffered, my self-care routine as well, but I managed to stay on track with running and I’m proud of myself that I did. It’s very easy to skip once when you’re trying to get new habits and then just quit altogether because of one-time “failure”, so it was important to me to not do this mistake. I know I can get back to my better sleep & self care routine and I have more self confidence now because I did what I decided to do without failing. Obviously things won’t be easy and perfect all the time, but it’s important to know your goals, adjust as you go and don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect :-)
8. If you love your body & want to keep it healthy, you should sweat daily & be outside daily. It can be not running, but please, do it :-) Our bodies are designed to move (plus sweating removes toxins from your body) and I felt how much my body craved that.
Plus, running early allows you to see some pretty awesome views!
Tomorrow evening I’m going for a mini vacation in Porto, Portugal and I’m taking my sneakers with me ;)
With love and inspiration,
Learning…from waste of time to my favorite activity
I was always a curious person, but traditional education system in school wasn’t something I really admired… I did very well on subjects I liked and didn’t put much effort to those subjects I didn’t like. Now when I think about it it’s such an enormous waste of your time (and life- I mean we spend 12 years there and honestly some of that time I simply wasted sitting bored/chatting with my classmate/drawing on my notebook and waiting for the lesson to finish, year after year) which could be used to learn things that are of your interest and aligned to your natural talents… So later when I studied in Denmark I was really impressed with their different approach which made so much more sense- we would get a topic, only a few lectures on it, reading list where we could find more information and a group project related to that topic to work on with an assigned teacher to help you when/if necessary. Of course this approach requires you to be motivated to do the work because it allows a lot of freedom, but I felt that finally I was thriving in education- nobody forced me, they just guided and encouraged me to study what I was already interested in and they encouraged me to find out things myself. I guess this was part of what inspired me later in life to pursue all things I find interesting, because I knew from practice that I can learn anything if I want and I can do it on my own.
It’s funny when I think that with years I learn more & more, not less compared to time I spent at school. If you believe that learning is important (and shouldn’t stop after your official education has ended), but find it difficult to learn new things continuously, then you should like my 5 tips- they all don’t take too much time and are easy to implement:
5 easy ways to infuse learning into your everyday
1. TED talks & short documentaries on youtube/vimeo- takes anything from 10 minutes to an hour and are packed with knowledge (and TED talks are often also very entertaining)
2. Reading– I know, if you don’t read you probably think that it takes lots of time, but the truth is it doesn’t have to. Start small and set measurable goals that don’t overwhelm you- decide on time (reading 10 minutes a day-anyone could do that ;) ) or amount of chapters/pages. Set small goals, they compound in the long run. I personally love reading not everyday, but in bigger chunks, for example having a bath and reading a few chapters of good book= new knowledge+perfect relaxation.
3. Listen to audio books. I like Amazon Audible (German version is a bit cheaper) or finding some lectures/audio books on Youtube and downloading them to my phone/ipad. Perfect for commute or morning runs/walks/gym!
4. Subscribe to video blogs of educational nature. Some of my current favorites: Marie Forleo, Denise Duffield-Thomas, Social Triggers, Tara Bliss. It depends on your topic of interest obviously, but there’s plenty of good content and these videos usually last about 10 minutes.
5. Listen to Podcasts. It’s free and you can do it while you are doing something else like running, commuting, being at the gym etc. My favorite is 5 AM miracle by Jeff Sanders, I also love Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic lessons about creativity and few others. The variety of topics available in podcasting community is huge and I’m sure you’ll find what suits your interests.
Know your “why”
Now I’m not suggesting that you should just watch/listen/read anything, I’m suggesting you to be strategic with your time & goals. Is there any new skill you would like to gain or new business you want to start? Or maybe you always wanted to travel the world full-time but don’t know how? Having a clear goal will motivate you and doing small steps DAILY to learn how to achieve it will bring you closer to your dream- also DAILY. Knowing what is it that you want usually is not enough- you also need to know WHY you want that. Imagine & list all the benefits you would get if you achieved your goal and do it in vivid details. How would you feel? How would your day look like and who would you share it with? Paint as real vision as possible and keep it in mind or even better write it somewhere where you can see it daily. Also consider what would happen in the future (1, 5,10 years from now) if you still didn’t achieve this goal? How would you feel about that? This should give you some motivation to learn what you want to learn :)
How important learning is in your life? What are your favorite ways to learn new things? Would love to hear your opinion in the comments!
With love & inspiration,
Everyone knows how addictive the casual chips are, but I guess everyone (I hope at least!) also knows that almost all of them aren’t really good for your body… But there’s a very easy, quick, totally healthy and also ridiculously addictive alternative- raw kale chips. They even taste like cheese flavored casual chips! Don’t think that cabbage chips can be worth trying? I hear you, but don’t judge until you haven’t tried them :)
I rarely do any recipes with precise proportions, and this is the same and you can always experiment and change proportions or add some new ingredients as you want, but for basic recipe you’ll need:
Raw kale chips
*1 big kale cabbage
* 2-3 Tbsp of nutritional yeast (I buy them from www.iherb.com, but they should be at any healthy food store)
* 1 cup cashew nuts, preferably soaked for few hours
* some water (depends on your blender, you need to be able to blend the cashews)
* Himalayan or sea salt
* around 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
*optional ingredients: chili flakes, various dried herbs, garlic or onion powder, a squeeze of lemon juice.
Soak the cashews for about 2 hours. You can use them not soaked as well, but it’s much easier to blend them when they’re soaked. Drain them and add to blender (preferably high speed blender) and add a bit of water. The goal is to add as little as possible water, but still blend the cashews into creamy consistency. Take the kale, wash it and tear the leafs to small pieces, throw the stems out (or use for something else, like soup etc.). In a big bowl add the pieces of kale, pour the cashew cream, add nutritional yeast, salt and olive oil and mixed everything throughly. “Massage” the sauce into the kale :)
If you have dehydrator then put the drying sheets and add the chips in single layer. Dehydrate in 40°C until crispy. If you don’t have dehydrator, you can use your oven. Put baking paper in and again add the chips in single layer. Set your oven at lowest temperature and bake until crispy. Some ovens can have possibility to set low temperature, for others people use them partly open to still keep the low temperature. In this case you end up with a snack that’s raw and full of beneficial enzymes, vegan, gluten-free and so tasty that you can feed your kids with greens using this recipe :) For nutritional benefits of kale check here.
By the way, kale is not only one of the healthiest foods, but also one that you can grow during the colds in autumn and winter, so it makes a great choice when you’re searching for some vitamins and most of the other fresh produce is not in season.
I was really absent from this blog lately and one of the things why was that I was working on my new photography website, which you can check here: www.linaskukauske.com. Besides that and normal work I was also doing lots of new spiritual & psychological practices, studying in an online course and now started studying in another one (but this time it’s about lifestyle photography, so there should be more blog posts soon, as I have photography home works in this course ;) ), so there are many new things I now incorporate into my life, but I don’t feel ready to write about those topics yet. Maybe later after a bit more practice I’ll share my experience here as well, because I think they’re VERY beneficial, but as with every change you need to first fully accept it into your life.
It’s a rainy Sunday here in Germany, so I’ll take a plate of these green snacks, a good book and go to chill out in a bed with cozy wool blanket :) Let me know in the comments how was your experience with the kale chips ;)
Who doesn’t love ice cream? I certainly do, but I rarely eat store-bought ice cream because I never find any with proper ingredients and I try to avoid using non-organic milk products. I remember how in childhood ice cream used to be from milk/cream and sugar, but nowadays?… Milk powders, various fats (some can be not vegetarian, so I avoid those), sweeteners and just additional ingredients to keep everything together looking like ice cream… So now when summer finally came to Germany and we have 30°C+ temperature for last few days and it seems to last for some time more (yay!) I thought it’s finally time for ice cream. This recipe is very easy and for basic ice cream requires only one ingredient! And it’s vegan & sugar free! I usually add additional ingredients and with those possibilities are endless. I’ll share few versions here as well.
So for the basic version you will need:
* Very ripe (with dots) bananas, amount depends on how much ice cream you want, but I would suggest to do more because they are simply so tasty and because it will be easier to produce. So starting with 4 bananas is a good idea.
*To produce the ice cream you will need either a high speed blender or a masticating juicer (I use mostly this option) or a food processor and spatula. It is possible to use ice cream maker as well.
Peel the bananas, and if you will be using high speed blender or masticating juicer break them in three pieces and shown in image above. If you will be using food processor cut them in small slices. Put them in a bowl/plate/container and freeze overnight. Usually I just keep some frozen bananas in my freezer to have them ready, otherwise you need to plan in advance a bit. When your bananas are frozen enough then:
a) Using high speed blender: put them in blender (you will need a powerful blender for that, any kind of blender might not work) and use “pulse” function, stop, scrape from sides using spatula, repeat until you end up with a smooth, ice cream-like consistency. They will be softer than normal ice cream, so you can put them back to freezer for an hour, though they are tasty as they are as well.
b) Using masticating juicer: turn the juicer on and put bananas one by one through it. You end up with a smooth, ice cream-like consistency. Again you can freeze them for one hour more in the freezer if you want harder consistency.
c) Using food processor: depending on your food processor you might need to do this in small batches, but the idea is similar as with the blender- put the bananas in, blend, scrape with spatula and blend again, repeating the process until they will turn into smooth and creamy consistency. Freeze for one hour more if you want harder consistency.
d) Using ice cream maker: Blend bananas while they are not frozen (in this case any blender should work) and put the mass to ice cream maker (if you will be using any other ingredients for the ice cream, add them as well, if necessary blend them before) and let them freeze for 40 minutes.
So as I mentioned they are very tasty just as they are, but you can also experiment with all kinds of additional ingredients! Some of the things that work well are:
*Other plant based milk, but it needs to be quite fatty (anything with too much water makes the ice cream loose its perfect creamy consistency). I like using fatty home made hemp milk.
*Cacao powder or cocoa nibs and so on. The possibilities are really endless :)
You can add those ingredients when blending or just use them as toppings after the ice cream is made. What I did for these pictures was that I made basic banana ice cream and added another fruity cream on top, not frozen (though this mixture works well when frozen as well!)
The second fruity layer:
*1 big ripe mango
*1/2 organic lemon juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
*1 tsp cinnamon powder
*200 ml coconut cream
*2 handfuls of strawberries
* Some mint leaves (optional, but fits nicely)
*Mint leaves & strawberries to decorate.
Blend all the ingredients together (grate lemon zest before), pour over the ice cream base and decorate with strawberries and mint leaves and enjoy! Depending on how many bananas you used for base layer it will make enough ice cream for about 3-4 portions of healthy, tasty, vegan, sugar-free dessert :)
P.S. regarding equipment- I use Blendtec blender, Omega VRT350 juicer and Cuisinart ice cream maker.
Have you tried banana ice cream before? What kind of treats do you make in summer? I would love to know!
With love & inspiration,
It’s been a long time since I wrote anything here due to many reasons, mainly because of my intense work & travel schedule during this spring, but now I finally have some more time to relax, create & write, so it’s time to share with you my impressions from our trip to India in May.
This track will help to set the mood and I’m sorry for bad quality of pictures- I didn’t take my normal camera because I thought it was not safe, so I just took some snapshots with my old camera and with ipad.
Me & holly Indian cow
I always wanted to go to India, actually I like to travel everywhere, but as I love many aspects of Indian culture India was a priority on my list. Topic of manifesting probably needs a separate blog post, but to make long story short I was doing some manifesting exercises and one of the things I wanted to manifest was a trip to India, so I was super happy when my husband suddenly saw extremely cheap plain tickets from Riga to India. We obviously took it as a sign from Universe and bought them without too much thinking. Actually after few hours the same tickets got much more expensive and reached more or less normal price of 700 Euros, so there was no time to think too long. Two of our friends bought the same cheap tickets, so were traveling together- two men and two girls.
We were going to India in May, which is almost the hottest time of the year (the hottest time was about two weeks after we left) and going there during the hot season might not be the best idea, but it is something memorable for sure, even for such a warmth lover as I am. As we successfully survived 8 days in +43°C I thought it could be useful to share some stories & do’s & don’ts for those who plan a trip to India.
We didn’t have too much time in India, so we chose to spend it mainly in Vrindavan (we visited Mathura & Delhi as well, but just shortly), which is a small town about 160 km from Delhi. Considered one of the holiest places in India Vrindavan is said to have 5000 temples and it’s one of the places where influence of Western culture is not so visible yet. It is also believed to be a place where Lord Krishna grew up 5000 years ago, so it is something similar to Bethlehem to christians and it’s very important pilgrimage place for hindus. Everything in this city is related to Krishna – from deities in the temples, to new properties for sale called “Krishna heights”, to local sellers shouting to you in markets near temples “Come come, Krishna shopping!” It made me smile so much and though sometimes it seems as funny marketing tricks, but spirituality really plays an essential role there. It was fascinating to see how important God is to people there. And to be honest, you do feel strangely taken care of and led when you’re there. We didn’t plan almost anything for this trip and things magically turned out in well in all kinds of unexpected ways.
Lord Krishna and gopis in mural of one of the temples
Almost each of the house in Vrindavan is a temple, sometimes very small and unnoticeable and sometimes very impressive. The ISCKON temple is the newest and most suited to westerners. It’s restaurant Govinda’s is one of the rare safe places to eat if you’re a westerner (definitely try mango lassi if you’re there as it’s local specialty and just very tasty).
Ilona during Vrindavan Parikrama- pilgrimage trip barefoot around Vrindavan
There is this insane variety of animals on the streets- some of them are tamed, most of them are stray. I was trying to count how many different animals I have seen there, so:
*Obviously (holy) cows. The streets are full of them, most of them are decorated, loved by locals & are beautiful, calm creatures that you often stop to pet :) They roam free, sometimes people feed them with dried grass, sometimes they eat anything they find on streets and sometimes they go to the houses and ask for food, people feed them and milk them. That’s such a different relationship than what we have in west, especially when I think about factory farming…
*Monkeys. Not so loved, but streets are full of them, too. Most of them doesn’t look too healthy or clean, they sit in gangs on the roofs or in small streets, watching you all the time for anything they could steal, which they do pretty well :) When you go out locals scan you if you are “monkey-proof”- meaning that you do’t carry anything shiny and hanging loose, don’t carry things in your hands and especially don’t have plastic bags- monkeys know that you normally carry fruits and food from markets in plastic bags and try to steal those immediately. Obviously you shouldn’t carry food in your hands, too :) One day Ilona and I were shopping in the market and we were approached by a guy who was from Indian TV and wanted to take an interview from us as foreigners about “monkey problems in Vrindavan”. We were laughing a lot and said that we don’t have problems with them and we don’t want to be featured in his interview. So we finished shopping and decided that we want to have a watermelon for lunch, so we went to fruit section of the market and bought a ripe 3 kg watermelon. When heading home Ilona was carrying it and I was going first and I just heard her screaming- when I turned I saw that huge monkey had jumped on her and took the watermelon from her. The monkey was now on the ground, keeping the watermelon with her hands and biting it. I tried to take it from her and though at first she went few steps away from the “her” lunch, but then I made a mistake and stopped for a brief second to think whether I still want to eat the watermelon which was bitten by a monkey. She saw me thinking and unsure and took a fierce stand showing the teeth and again grabbing the watermelon. As much as I wanted the watermelon it was not worth to fight with monkey- they can have all kinds of diseases and they can bite you and being bitten by a monkey wasn’t on my wish list for this trip. So we just surrendered and local guy who saw this whole scene passed us by laughing…
Buffalos– they look like cows, but are much more furry;
Horses– not so many of them and they (oppositely from cows) looked very bad… People use them to carry weights and somehow it looks that they don’t feed them too much…
Camel– yes, I saw a carriage with a camel :)
Dogs– almost all of them stray, many of them dirty and not so healthy… The strange thing is that they behave somewhat like cats in Europe- they don’t care about anything and just do what they want and where they want. It’s totally normal to see many of them laying on the narrow streets and to step over them when you want to go into the temple for example. Normally they don’t bite, though they can be infected with rabies.
Wild pigs. Well it’s something in between our pig and boar. Funny creatures eating literally anything they can find on the streets. One of the more interesting things I saw was pigs eating burning trashes in the street. In these moments you just feel really awkward and that you are not in this world;
Cats– we haven’t seen any, but locals told that there are a lot, but they hide during the day, because monkeys kill them if they don’t. Really weird and make monkeys loose their appeal totally.
Squirrels, lizards, birds and all kinds of other small animals…
So all this variety combined with shouting locals, constantly signaling cars, motorcycles and rickshaws on the streets (plus some chanting in almost each building, as almost each door is a temple) makes it a really interesting place. And remember that it’s always from 30 (during the night) to 40+ degrees, so that really makes you feel like in cosmos :)
Accommodation: Personally I think that India is not a place to comfortably relax (Italy or Southern France is much more suitable for that…) and in this trip we were going for the experience of different culture and not for comfort. So obviously we were not searching for expensive hotels, western food & strong wifi, and even if we would have searched for those things, I’m not so sure if you can find them there :) At least not in such a small town, although I have many friends who were traveling in India in different places and even those who spend a lot in India didn’t find what they were looking for in terms of cleanliness & comfort. So what we did was that we tried to blend in the life of city, meet locals, hear their perspective on life and spirituality, went to temples, shopped in markets, bought & wore local clothes. We stayed in guesthouses of two temples. For the first place we paid 2 euros for person per night and this also included a big, freshly made lunch prepared by a holy woman from the temple, from local products and made with love :) Obviously the comfort level in the guesthouse was far from hotel or anything that you could expect in Europe, but it was clean and there we also had two lovely girls, one from Russia and one from United states who had their spiritual master in that temple and were living in Vrindavan for few years now, so we had wonderful guides if we needed anything and they were really friendly and caring and tried to help us with everything that we needed. For me this is much more important and valuable than comfy bed, especially when you travel for just 8 days. After few days in the first place we got sick and as there were no proper air conditioner and electricity was going down about 5 times per night, we decided to move to another guesthouse, this time in ISCKON temple which is made mainly for westerners having their needs in mind. So they have electricity back-up from generator, air conditioner and wifi. As close as you can get to normal living :) For this we paid 7 euros per person per night with no food included, which is still a very good deal, but we kind of felt the lack of authenticity comparing to the previous place :)
Fresh fruits for breakfast in inner yeard
Food & water: Basically it’s not safe to eat and drink most of the things there. As westerners we are not used to the bacterias that are in that part of the world and sanitary conditions are very different, too. Safest option is to buy bottled water, always checking if the bottle is really new as it can be refilled… We also drank filtered water at the first guesthouse because our neighbors/guide girls told it’s totally safe and they drink it all the time and it was fine. For food the safest option is to eat fruits that you buy in the market and wash REALLY well (we washed with tap water and soap and then with drinking water), but you also need to know which fruits to eat. For example we were told in the temple that all foreigners get sick because they come with a plan to eat only mangos (just as we planned :D) and mangos increase heat and they get overheated very quickly and end up in hospitals, so only 2 mangos per day are recommended. In India they still use Ayurveda and think in which way which food affects your body and mind and we learned some new interesting things.
Street food in general is not safe to eat, though it’s very very cheap. What we found to be safest option is to eat in temples, because all the food they prepare in temples is offered to God before people eat it and this requires much stricter standards than for food prepared for humans. You usually just have to donate for such food. If you have no intention to eat with your hands, keep in mind to bring your own utensils. As I mentioned above, another safe place to eat is restaurant Govinda at ISCKON temple. It has a huge menu, food is mostly Indian although you can find some western dishes as well (like “Personal pizza” and “spaghati” :)))) ), but we tried to stick to local dishes as there were so many we didn’t know and wanted to try. Prices there are also much higher than everywhere else in Vrindavan because it is created for westerners. But basically coming from Europe everything is still really affordable.
Health: No matter how much effort you are putting to stay healthy, clean your hands and so on you can still get sick really easily. As locals told us it’s enough to just walk and breath to get enough bacteria :))… And I believe that, especially when I saw people sweeping the streets and you have to walk through all the dust and dirt that’s flying in the air…Plus the heat is enormous and food is different from what you’re used to. From 4 of us 3 got sick, but strangely it didn’t last long, it comes & goes very quickly- one night you have 39 degrees fever (remember that surrounding temperature is the same or even more…) and the next day you’re fine. One interesting thing is that European medicine doesn’t work there. If you get ill- just go to local pharmacist and describe your symptoms and he will give you something that works. Pharmacists there are interesting people as well, but that’s another story…
If you’re going to the part of India where it’s possible to catch malaria it could be a good idea to get vaccination, although I think that vaccination is a tricky subject with lots of pros & cons.
Safety: Before going to India I read lots of awful articles about safety issues (especially for women) in India and though I know that they do exist in this country, but actually we didn’t experienced anything bad at all. Two times there were a guy kind of trying to steal from us, but it was SO obvious that he is following us that it was funny. So he was following us but when he saw that we obviously see him and his attempt and laugh from him he went away. But you do need to take a look at your things all the time and keep them safe. Something that we liked were products from Pacsafe. As I mentioned we travelled 4 persons together, so this of course makes it much more safe and comfortable, but to be honest during the day we didn’t feel not safe and few times we went to the market alone with Ilona. What I think is essential is to pay attention to local “dress code”- it’s not Europe and customs here are different. Ilona and I dressed according to local customs- long skirts, t-shirts with sleeves (showing shoulders is considered very inappropriate) and a light scarf on top to hide your chest. It’s easy to buy clothes in local shops and it’s cheap and when we were dressed like that we were treated with respect. It’s also a must to dress “properly” (as mentioned before) if you want to enter any of the temples. For men it’s not so important, though it’s still suggested to cover your shoulders. My husband bought local traditional clothes, mainly because they are so comfortable and it’s not so hot with them, but I think it also had another advantage. In Vrindavan it’s relatively common that westerners go here and choose their spiritual master and then stay here for few years or even all life, and they normally dress in traditional clothes, so when you’re dressed that way locals think that you’re here for longer time and treat you as a tourist a bit less (less attempts to sell you stuff you don’t need, less looking etc.), you kind of blend in.
As I mentioned above monkeys are a big issue, so you either have to be careful or carry a thing called “monkey stick” which you can buy in the market :) They are really afraid of it… It also helps if you can take a stone from the ground and show them that you will throw it to them. Monkey babies are cute, but it’s not a good idea to stare at them as they are really protective of their babies.
As we were told by locals it’s not really safe to go anywhere during the night so we tried to avoid that.
Heat: Though I love warmth, but this temperature was a bit too much for me as well. Obviously the better idea would be to go when it’s not so hot, but if you happened to be in India during the hot season you can still survive and even enjoy your holidays. You need to drink a lot of water, few liters a day. Best thing is to wake up really early, like at 5-6 and then you have time until 10 when it’s not too hot. At midday it’s really too hot and locals have something similar to siesta. I would like to say that it gets cooler in the afternoon, but to be honest it doesn’t. It just stay hot until the next morning, so you have to get used to that and take some relaxing breaks in the shadow. At night it’s still 30°C degrees :) Best thing that we found is to wear your clothes totally wet, in shadow they stay wet for less than two hours, but it does make a difference. At least wear a wet scarf. I had a hat, but as nobody wear hats there it adds like 500 tourist points instantly :))) And you don’t want to look like a tourist and attract even more attention there, so it’s better to wear a scarf instead. Glasses can be stolen by monkeys :)
Going around: Our flight was to Delhi and we landed just at midnight. We had no intentions to wander through Delhi at night which is not safe at all, so we ordered a taxi from company based in Vrindavan to be there at the time we arrive. We did this while we were still in Europe and it was a clever choice. Our luggage got lost, so we had to fill in additional documents and were late for our taxi, but in the end our taxi driver was still waiting for us and we safely reached our destination at early morning. People don’t speak English very well there, just the common phrases and almost nothing is written in English- just few signs & some street names… So it takes some time to get used to the city and to orientate. Rickshaws are wonderful way of transport- it’s cheap, it’s really fun and the drivers knows all the places in town so you just need to tell where you need to go. Best idea is to ask locals what are the common prices for the distances that you will be going and arrange the price with driver in advance. We haven’t tried trains or buses there, but from what I heard they are often late and crowded, so we used taxi and rickshaws as they are still inexpensive.
Prices: I believe that if you really want to travel you can also do it inexpensively (using Couchsurfing, Blablacar or searching for cheap buses and flight tickets. It can take some more planning and research, but what I have in mind is that you don’t need to restrict yourself saying you have no money for traveling. We found our plain tickets “accidentally” ( though I don’t think so because I did my manifesting exercises :))) ), but you can always check sites like Secret flying for good flight deals. We didn’t have any particular plans to save money during this trip, but after our trip we counted that for me and my husband the whole trip costed just 500 euros for one person, and this includes:
* Visa price
* Plane tickets from Riga to Zurich and from Zurich to Delhi with Swiss Airlines (!) and back the same route (149 euros for one person both ways);
* Plane tickets from Munich to Vilnius and back;
* Gas to go by car from Vilnius to Riga and back;
* Cost for living in India for 8 days and we also bought things to bring back as gift and just to use for ourselves. For example I really like Chyawanprash, a local Indian food supplement which is not only called “elixir of life” but is also very tasty. I was shocked about the price differences- I bought organic chyawanprash there for 8 euros and here in Germany the same brand costs 59 euros…
So I really feel that we have some good karma :) The whole experience inspired me to travel more and stop thinking that traveling to far away countries has to be expensive and I hope that my post will change your perspective, too.
And one final, essential tip… I wrote all those practical things which can be useful, but actually the main tip I would like to give for those of you who plan to travel to India is different. I want to suggest you to…surrender. We never control anything in our lives (though we of course would like to think that we control everything) and in India you can feel this so so strongly… And it’s much better to just trust in God/Universe (or should I say Krishna? :) ), ask for guidance and let go of any attempts to control your environment or plan what will happen. Our luggage was lost in Switzerland and for two days we didn’t have it, we stayed in different place than we arranged before coming there, we got to know & spent time with people about whom we had no idea when we arrived, we got mysteriously ill and we got healthy again, we were fed and taken care of in temple by holy woman about who we had no idea before coming and so on and so forth… Not to mention constantly disappearing electricity… I would say that India really requires flexibility from you, it shows you that life happens the way it should happen and not the way you plan it to happen and you are left with a choice- either to try fighting it or to relax, trust and surrender. And I really encourage you to choose the latter.
Would I like to live here? No, but would I like to come back there? Definitely, and maybe even some time soon :)