Zohreh Sadeghi India and Beyond

Counting the days

I know I haven’t written for a while mainly because I’m basically doing the same things as I was since I arrived here. Plus I barely get any free time to relax, my days start at 6 AM and end by 9 PM. I’m still in Koh Samui enjoying my retreat, taking in the sun (and rain at times), and meeting some wonderful people from all around the world. I finished my 14 days of fasting with a fresh bowl of papaya, it was delicious and it felt really good eating solid food once again. I continued eating papaya twice a day for 2 days after that and on day 17 I started eating real food and by that I mean Kicheri or Kichdi (it’s an Indian food similar to rice porridge with some vegetables and spices) for lunch and a mung bean soup for dinner. I feel great eating the way I do right now, my body and mind both feel so much lighter. I’m just doing lots of meditation, chanting, Pranayama and Yoga plus taking a course in Ayurveda. I have 3 more days left of my program and then I’m off to Bangkok for a very special family reunion.

I’ve been counting the days for the past 2 weeks because I cannot wait to be surrounded by my family. I’m so grateful that they’re all taking time off to come see me, it really means a lot to me. While I’ve enjoyed my one-month retreat here in Koh Samui, I felt lonely at times especially at the beginning. So seeing my family is gonna be a great change, my mom, dad, sister, brother are all coming plus my best friend Julie and my aunt and her entire family including my most favorite kids in the world, my 2 little cousins.

3 more days and I’ll get to hug every single one of them! I can’t wait!


Yoga and detox in Koh Samui

I have made my decision regarding studying in India for 2 more years and have already accepted the admission letter. I hope I made the right decision, I guess I wouldn’t really know until the program starts. I have a feeling this is exactly what I was meant to do all along but just got me a little while to work up the courage and accept it. After my decision was made I decided to take a little break from India and come to Thailand. As much as I love India, I was beginning to get tired of traveling on buses, trains, and eating the same kind of food everyday. I thought why not take a break and go somewhere I already know I love and do some Yoga and cleansing.

So here I am on the island of Koh Samui (not my favorite island in Thailand but it’s pretty nice). I decided to sign up for a detox program at one of the retreat centers here in Samui. Traveling non-stop for the past 2 months, eating mostly at restaurants left me feeling so sluggish. I felt like my digestion system was suffering from all the crap I was putting in it. There were days that I just couldn’t handle anymore Indian food so I would just end up snacking eating biscuits, crackers, chips, nuts, etc. I’m sure you all know what that could do to your body, putting junk in your system instead of anything substantial with any nutritional value is just not good for the body. I chose my snacks carefully I must say, raw nuts, baked chips, whole-wheat digestive biscuits, but eating even healthy snacks instead of real food is not good.

Thailand was my answer. I arrived here on July 1st and started my detox 2 days later. I wanted a rigorous program with lots of Yoga and that’s exactly what I got. In order to cleanse my system and give my digestion a rest I’ve decided to fast for 14 days. I’m currently on day 12 and what I’m allowed to have everyday consists of 2 coconuts waters, 2 wheat grass shots, 2 green vegetable juices, 1 carrot juice, 1 miso vegetable broth plus probiotic pills, herbal pills, and shakes made with bentonite and psyllium. I practice meditation and breath work every morning with the wonderful teachers here at the retreat, followed by a 90 minute Yoga class that basically kicks my butt especially since I’m not really eating anything. My other Yoga class is in the afternoon which is gentler and lasts only an hour. And while I’m not doing Yoga or taking herbs and drinking juices, I read. I’ve been reading non stop for the past few months, I guess that’s the benefit of traveling so much, having so much time on planes, trains, buses and hotel rooms. I finished 6 books in one month so I’m constantly buying books and once I’m done with each book I leave it for someone I had befriended at the last location I was at. I have given away many books already and have received a few from people as well.

While I love reading and writing on my blog occasionally, I cannot simply do it for a whole month. I’d go crazy. I’m not staying at Chaweng, which is a crowded and touristy beach here in Samui but rather at a very remote beach where the closest little super market is a 30-minute walk. So there’s really not much to do on this island except for meditation, Yoga and Pranayama. In order to fill my time a little I decided to sign up for an Ayurveda retreat that’s luckily coming up in a few days. It’s a 2-week retreat in which I will review some of the material I already know and learn some new stuff. I’m looking forward to it very much not only because it will fill my days but also because I’m truly passionate about learning as much as I can about Ayurveda. I gave my first Ayurvedic consultation here on the island to a lovely girl I met here at the resort. I had a 2 hour consultation with her and then I reviewed my notes and books at night and gave her a full Ayurvedic prescription the next day which basically consisted of a list of oils that were good for her body and the foods she should eat more of and the ones she should avoid plus some herbs that she could add into her diet. It felt so amazing using my knowledge and putting it to good use.

I do love Thailand and I’m enjoying my days here but I have to say I miss India with all its craziness. There’s truly nowhere else like it on earth!

This is where I practice Yoga, it's a beautiful little hut facing the beach


Aum Pranava Ashram

After almost a week in Bangalore, I finally recovered from my awful Ashram experience. I knew I wanted to try another Ashram but I didn’t know if I was ready yet. I started researching all the Ashrams throughout India but mainly in the south since I was already in the south and a train to the north meant at least 48 hours on the road. I came across Aum Pranava Ashram in Tamil Nadu. It immediately caught my attention since it wasn’t a typical Ashram; it was an orphanage and an old-age home. After looking through their site and reading about them I became interested in volunteering there. I got in touch with the founders and they showed interest in me visiting their Ashram and teaching Yoga and art to the kids.

I took a 10-hour bus from Bangalore to Mangalore and spent couple of days there. I wanted to see one of the universities I had applied for which was only a 2 hour bus ride from Mangalore. There were no hotels anywhere closer than Mangalore so I had no choice but to stay in Mangalore. After I was done in Mangalore I took the train from Mangalore to Trivandrum and then a taxi to go to Ilanji where the Ashram was located. The train ride was an exhausting 12-hour journey, I got to Trivandrum early morning and decided to have breakfast and rest for an hour before getting back on the road. I didn’t have the strength to take the bus to Ilanji, it would take nearly 3 hours on a crowded and extremely hot bus so I decided to pay more money and get a taxi. I arrived at the Ashram around noon. Ilanji is a small city (or village really) located in south of Tamil Nadu right where Kerala and Tamil Nadu meet. I think the altitude is higher than sea level in Ilanji because the climate was extremely nice, it wasn’t too hot and there was a nice cool breeze throughout the day. You could see mountains surrounding the city with many waterfalls that were so close by you could actually see them running down the mountains.

“What an amazing place this is, so simple and so sweet” was my first impression of the Ashram. I was greeted with smiley faces and a cup of Indian tea. Traude who is one of the founders of the Ashram came to greet me. I fell in love with her after speaking with her for a few minutes, anybody would. She’s one of the loveliest human beings I have ever met in my life. She’s a beautiful and tall Austrian woman who has an amazingly calm voice, I love listening to her recite the prayers and tell wonderful stories about her dogs and the children of the Ashram.

I was showed to my room, a small space with a bathroom attached but very clean, dust and dirt free. I quickly memorized the schedule of the Ashram. I arrived around noon and found out lunch was at 1:30. Older children who go to high school get up earlier in the morning at 5 AM, they have Yoga from 5 to 6. Younger kids wake up at 6 and have their Yoga from 6 to 7. Then from 7:30 to 8:30 is prayer time for everyone, 8:30 is breakfast time. After breakfast kids go off to school, each group of kids are registered at different schools, I learned there are about 3 (or maybe 4) different schools kids go to based on their age and their level. Young kids come back to the Ashram at 3 while older kids come back at 4. For older people who are staying at the Ashram, there’s a tea break at 10:30 AM and lunch is served at 1:30 PM. Another tea break for the elderly is at 4:30 which is also snack time for the kids. 6:30 to 7:30 is prayer time and dinner is served at 8:30. Whatever extra time there’s left in the day is dedicated to study and play.

I got to meet all the kids on the first day after they came back from school. They were so excited to see a new face. There were already a few volunteers there when I arrived, Santana from Miami, Thalia from Austria, Mike and his adorable 4-year-old daughter Emily from Missouri. They spent their days with the kids teaching them English, helping them with their homework and playing with them.

I dedicated the 2 weeks I was at the Ashram purely to the children. There were about 62 children at the Ashram. They vary in age from 7 to 16 so some go to Primary school, some Secondary school and some high school. I drove in the school bus with the young children everyday and went to their school. This school was also mainly for the poor kids, for the ones whose parents couldn’t afford to enroll them in an English-medium school (That means a school that teaches mainly in English). I spent my days teaching Yoga and art to the students at school. Dealing with 4th and 5th graders wasn’t as tough as the younger kids but the young kids especially the ones in 1st grade were so adorable. I of course had trouble communicating since none of the kids spoke any English. Couple of the teachers knew some English but still not enough for me to easily communicate with them. It was difficult but I became an expert in sign language and somehow found a way to communicate with the kids, they understood me perfectly and I understood them. To be honest before this experience I was always afraid of kids cause I simply didn’t know how to deal with them but after staying at the Ashram I started appreciating their innocence and simplicity. The only thing these kids wanted from me was love and attention.

All the kids at school became a huge fan of me and actually looked forward to their Yoga and art classes. Well they probably were a huge fan of the idea of me, a foreigner, someone who looked strange and was from another land speaking a strange language who paid so much attention to them. And it did help that I had purchased sheets and sheets of little star stickers to give them if their drawing was nice enough to deserve a star. It didn’t matter how they did cause at the end everybody got a star. They looked forward to receiving their star as if it was the most important thing in their little precious lives. The minute I’d enter the classroom they would yell “Zora Zora star star”.

I tried to fill my time with other activities when I wasn’t with the kids so I visited the towns around the area, went to an awesome waterfall only 5 km from the Ashram and took one of the bicycles at the Ashram one day and explored the neighborhood. But to be honest I was so exhausted at the end of the day that I’d just go to my room and crash. I didn’t even have time to read or check emails while I was at the Ashram. Who knew dealing with children could be so exhausting?

I also became friends with the elderly at the Ashram. I held a Yoga class for them every evening which they enjoyed so much. They laughed and had fun throughout the class and at the end of the class I let them rest in Savasana for 15 minutes, they would really fall asleep and some would start snoring, it was awesome. I also helped the ladies clean herbs and vegetables for cooking. I’d sit there with them on the floor cleaning vegetables and we would have a great conversation, they spoke in Tamil and I nodded and replied in English, the result was always all of us laughing together. It was beautiful, it was amazing how perfectly I understood what they were saying and they understood me. A few of them had knee pain so I massaged their knees with the Ayurvedic oils I had with me. They were so grateful and would offer me their blessings after each treatment.

Once the day arrived for me to leave I was very sad. I felt so heavy and depressed all day. I went around the Ashram taking pictures of everyone that I knew I was going to miss. I got used to the Ashram life, to eating food with the kids after listening to them recite the prayer, to teaching them Yoga, playing with them, laughing with them, letting the girls braid my hair, to spending time with the elderly, to talking with Traude and Vishud (Traude’s husband) during meal time and to the warmth and love I felt all around the Ashram. I know I’ll go back there soon; I want to see those kids all grown up. I don’t remember many of their names, but I’ll never forget their faces and the way they made me feel, warm and fuzzy inside.

(I’ll post pictures soon)

A valuable lesson

I decided to spend the month of June in an Ashram studying Yoga Therapy. This Ashram that’s now turned into a university is apparently a well-known Yoga research center in India and hundreds of people attend their Yoga Instructor’s course every month. I had heard about this place from a friend of mine and after I did my research on it I was convinced it’d be a great experience for me.  My friend also decided to join and go through the program with me. So we both reserved our spots in the program and I was very excited to head there until the day to leave for the Ashram actually arrived.

I was really nervous the whole day and had this really strange feeling in my gut, I can’t quiet explain the feeling but something inside me kept holding off. I was originally supposed to stay in Bangalore for one night before heading to the Ashram but since this feeling was so strong I extended my stay to two nights. On day 2, my friend met me in Bangalore and we got into a taxi heading to the Ashram that was about 2 hours outside of Bangalore.

The strange feeling in my stomach kept getting stronger and stronger as we started approaching the Ashram. I told my friend about it but he assured me that I’d be ok and he said if at any point I started having doubts about this place that I could just leave. Well that proved to be easier said that done.

Do you know that feeling you get as soon as you arrive at a place and you immediately know you don’t belong there? Maybe I can explain better, you’re searching for a hotel, it’s 11 PM at night, you’re exhausted, just got off the train after traveling for 18 hours straight and you’re just looking for a place to crash. But even in the midst of exhaustion there’s still that one hotel you would never stay at, the one hotel where you enter and by just looking at the lobby you know it’s not for you. You know that feeling? Well that’s exactly how I felt once we reached the Ashram, my stomach was all of a sudden all twisted up in a knot, I felt this burn and heaviness in my stomach (this is the way stress shows up in my body, the first place it attacks has always been my stomach, it’s always been that way for me).

We entered through these big iron gates where we had to deal with a mean security guard who had us fill out these visitor forms. After we got through that we entered the campus, it was big, lots of trees around with buildings and huts scattered in between as if the campus was built in the middle of forest. It was a gloomy and dark day, well it’s the monsoon season here in South India so everyday is pretty dark and it rains almost all day. Our taxi dropped us off at the reception area where we were greeted by an angry lady who told us to immediately report to the Yoga office since we had missed one day of class already. We did as she told, the Yoga building was a small building with one main lecture/practical hall and 2 to 3 little offices attached. We saw everybody sitting on the floor in the lecture hall as we entered the building, there were about 70 students taking the course most of which looked Indian to me.

After we were done with the formalities, the angry lady proceeded to show us to our rooms. Since I was a foreigner I could share a room with another foreigner in a newer building but my friend who was Indian had to stay at the hostel with 35 other boys. The room she took me to looked ok at first glance except for the fact that it was super tiny, and I mean really really small with 2 twin beds crammed in there and 2 plastic chairs and nothing else. I choked for a second when I saw my roommate’s bed covered with her clothes and belongings. I was horrified at the thought of living out of my suitcase for a month. This might not sound as frightening to some of you but after being on the road for more than a month and having to live out of my suitcase in this and that hotel, all I wanted was a feeling of settlement during my time at this Ashram. I was looking forward to spending more than a week at one location, and I thought I’d have a closet or at least some shelves so I could unpack and settle down. I asked the lady if there were any single rooms available and she said absolutely not and that I had to share this room. I said I’d pay the extra fee and begged her to give me another room, but she decided to ignore me and walked out of the room while handing me the keys. I put my backpack down and sat on the bed and curled up hugging my knees while starring at the room around me. I was beginning to feel it, the fear, anger, disappointment, sadness was all building up. I kept repeating to myself “Come on Z, don’t be so spoiled, so what, it’s a small room and not a very clean one but who cares, you’ll be ok. Come on, just toughen up.”

I refused to attend any of the classes that night and instead took a walk around the campus with my friend, we talked about the Ashram and while he tried to encourage me and get me excited about the course I was sad, just purely sad. I met my roommate later that night, a Chinese lady in her late 30s I guessed who was perfectly nice and laughed a lot. She wasn’t too happy to see me cause she had thought there was nobody else joining the course and that she’d have the room to herself. She told me there were only about 8 foreigners in the whole program and that the schedule was pretty tough. I looked at the course syllabus, and I was blown away: Wake up call at 4:30 AM, 5 AM meditation and Pranayama (breathing) followed by Asanas (Yoga postures) until 7 AM, 7 to 8 AM Karma Yoga which means selfless help around the Ashram (washing, cleaning, etc.), 8 to 8:45 AM Mantras/prayers, 8:45 to 9:45 AM breakfast, 10 AM first lecture. You get the picture, right? It went on like this until 9:15 at night, back to back lectures, Yoga sessions, meditation sessions, prayers, etc. And we had 30 minutes each day to study on our own, 9:15 to 9:45 PM, and lights were out at 10 PM. For a second I thought I had joined the military.

It wasn’t so much the schedule that got to me, or the fact that I had to sit on the floor in a super dirty dining hall eating some bland food with my hands but it was the bed bug bites I saw all over my body once I woke up at 4:30 AM the next day that frightened me. I kind of knew I didn’t want to be there anymore but I put on my clothes and went to meditation and Yoga anyways. Afterwards I went back to the reception and asked the always angry lady for a single room. I couldn’t take sharing that tiny room with another girl and all those bed bugs scared the hell out of me. I told her I had trouble sleeping with others in the room and that I needed a single room. After much begging, The angry lady finally agreed and changed my room. When I opened the door to my new room, I couldn’t help the tears from falling. I completely lost it. It was smaller than the smallest bathroom with one twin bed put on an angle because it wouldn’t fit into the room if it was put straight. There was a toilet attached that I won’t even go into detail of how horrible it was. The whole room stunk; there was dirt, spider webs, and dust everywhere. I cried for a few minutes, then got up, wiped my tears and went to class. After class I went back to my room, put my gloves on and started scrubbing. My friend came to my rescue and we scrubbed for about 2 hours. Once the scrubbing was done, I sat on the bed, looked around and started crying again. That’s when I knew I couldn’t stay there. I told my friend I could handle the schedule, the food, the mean teachers/staff but I could not live in dirt for an entire month. The bed sheets and blanket were so dirty that they had turned black. My friend looked at me and said “Listen you need to get out of here because if you stay here longer you will get sick, I see it in you, you’re miserable. You’re a strong girl and this doesn’t mean you’re quitting, this place is just not for you.”

It was 6 PM when we had this talk, it was time to go to my other lecture but instead I started packing like a crazy woman. I didn’t even know if I could leave, I didn’t know if I could get my money back, I didn’t know how difficult it was going to be but I packed. And I went online and reserved a hotel room in Bangalore for 2 nights. After that was all done, I went down to the reception and told the biggest lie I have ever told in my life and I hoped that god would forgive me for lying. I already looked like crap so the angry lady felt bad just seeing me, I was still in tears when I spoke with her, I said I had to leave to go back to San Francisco because of a horrible family emergency. I won’t go into detail of what I had to go through to convince these people to let go and the procedures I had to go through but 3 hours later at 9 PM I was in a taxi heading to Bangalore.

I was miserable for the next 2 days in Bangalore, I fell sick and stayed in bed; I’d like to think I was suffering from mental food poisoning. My stomach was in pain, my blood pressure had dropped, I was completely fatigued and my whole body was in pain. I decided to stay in Bangalore for a while longer to have some down time and get healthy again. So I changed my hotel to one that had a self-service laundry. And the washing began, I washed all my clothes, I was washing like a mad woman for 2 days straight.

Now looking back I think this was a good lesson to learn for me, a lesson to always trust my gut feeling and don’t ever ignore what my heart tells me. I should have listened to the voice inside me and avoided that ashram but I decided to ignore it cause my ego got in the way. People at the ashram felt bad for me and gave me 80% of my money back which I was more than happy with. I’d probably walk away even if they had said you won’t get a refund. I just wish I didn’t have to lie but sometimes life doesn’t give you any other option.

The Nepal experience

Zahra and I met in Kathmandu on a beautiful and cool Tuesday afternoon in May. I arrived first and checked into the hotel and awaited her arrival. When I opened the door and saw her smiling face I jumped into her arms and hugged her as tight as I could and then showered her with kisses.

Zahra is one of my best friends; I’ve known her for about 14 years now. We went to the same high school in Iran and even though we never became close friends while in high school I always liked her and she always liked me (right Zahra?). Back in high school I used to be the ignorant kid who made fun of everybody else and thought she was the best. I wasn’t mean though, never got into any fights with anyone, was never rude to anyone and never hurt anyone intentionally. I liked everybody but I just thought I was better than everybody else. My partner in crime, Mona and I had lots of fun in high school. We had nicknames for different kids and we had a nickname for Zahra, we called her Sherry, honestly I have no idea why. Zahra had a loud laughter and every time she laughed in class, her voice echoed and it sounded even louder than it was and that’s what we made fun of her for. Funny thing is she knew this all along, years later when I met up with her in California she told me this but she said that she didn’t care and she didn’t hold it against me. I’m glad she didn’t cause honestly who cares how loud someone laughs or doesn’t? We were young and stupid that’s all I can say.

After I moved to the States I lost touch with her until one day I received a phone call from her. She said she was in Canada and that she was moving to the States and knew I was there and wanted to find out what city I was living in. I was living in San Dimas at the time, a small city in Southern California and I was going to Mt. San Antonio College about 20 minutes away from our apartment. She had no idea where that was but she told me she was moving to Pomona cause her brother was living there. When I heard the name Pomona, I screamed and told her she was moving basically 15 minutes away from me. Like I always say, if it’s meant to be, then it’s meant to be. So she moved to Pomona, we became best friends and we’ve been inseparable ever since. We quickly got very close to each other and attended the same college for a semester and I spent almost every day at her apartment. We had lots of fun together. We picked a different location for lunch everyday, back then my favorites were El Pollo Loco, Taco Bell, Subway, and Quiznos so I quickly introduced her to the wonderful world of American fast food (or so I thought it was back then). I introduced her to Caramel Frappuccinos at Starbucks (which was introduced to me earlier that year by my very first Mexican friend Geneva), the tasty smoothies at Planet Smoothie across from Mt. SAC campus and so much more. Life was so simple back then, all we did was study, eat, talk and laugh.

Zahra and I grew up together and experienced so much together. We have many wonderful memories and so many we’d like to forget. I remember when I was in Iran almost a year ago and we both got arrested at a party and got thrown into jail. I was sitting in the cell with my head on her shoulder just processing what had happened to us when all of a sudden Zahra said: “Now there’s nothing we haven’t done together, I never imagined we’d experience something like this but we are, and we’re doing it together.” I didn’t know whether I should cry or laugh at that moment but it was true, and I didn’t want to be with anyone else but her.

We spent the first day in the hotel catching up; we had so much to talk about even though we were in touch through email and phone almost everyday. But I’m sure you know how it is when you meet up with a close friend after a very long time. We went down to the restaurant at the hotel and celebrated our first night together with a bottle of wine.

We spent the next 2 days exhausting ourselves by being true tourists. We saw many temples, stupas and other wonderful sights in Kathmandu. By day 3 we were exhausted and decided to take it easy. Our hotel was nice but nothing fancy or luxurious since we couldn’t afford to stay at the Hyatt Regency, which is the fanciest hotel in Kathmandu. But we also didn’t want to stay there, we wanted to experience the real Kathmandu and stay somewhere simple and closer to downtown. So to relax we went down to the Hyatt, had some amazing breakfast and spent the rest of the day relaxing and reading by the pool.

I was keen on the idea of rafting and bungee jumping but Zahra wasn’t a big fan so we settled on Trekking. After days of searching and getting price quotes from different places we finally picked a place and a guide to take us trekking. He picked us up at 5:30 AM; we drove about 2 hours to get to the forest where a 5-hour hiking trail awaited us. What our guide didn’t know was that I walk super fast so the 5 hour hike took us only 3 to complete. I was ahead of our guide throughout the walk and he kept telling me he was impressed by the speed of my walking. I thought he just let me go ahead so I’d feel good about myself but I swear to god when I finally told him we should take a quick break, he jumped on the idea and when he sat down I noticed him breathing heavily. So for a quick moment I felt very proud. That feeling didn’t last long though cause the minute I got up I felt this awful pain in my feet and I wasn’t able to walk after we got back to the hotel. Zahra wasn’t don’t any better, her left butt cheek was sore, just the left one though!

The hike was absolutely beautiful though; I enjoyed the cool weather of the Himalayans, beautiful views of green hills and mountains. We passed by 3 villages on our way, it was so wonderful and everybody greeted us with such warmth. All the village kids would run towards us saying, “hi, hi, give me some chocolate”. Had I known that these kids loved chocolate so much, I would have bought kilos and kilos of chocolate to give them. I was sad since I didn’t have any but I offered everything I had in my backpack, which wasn’t much, a few granola bars, a box of biscuits, a pack of gum and a pack of crackers. They took everything with excitement but I knew chocolate would have made them so much happier.

The day after our hike with swollen feet and soreness, we still decided to go explore the city. Kathmandu is really great. There’s a part of town designed more for tourists called Thamel where you’ll find lots and lots of local shops selling Nepalese clothing and handicrafts plus amazing bakeries, super markets and restaurants. You can find all kinds of cuisines in Thamel from Japanese to Italian to Arabic. And almost all restaurants and coffee shops offer free wireless Internet that makes it easy to search and figure out your next destination. If you leave Thamel and go to the neighboring areas you will see more of the real Nepal, small streets, filled with little shops and crowded with Nepalese themselves instead of foreigners and tourists. You can find much cheaper food at these neighborhoods of course. There are also big shopping malls in Kathmandu, not too many, maybe a handful. We managed to visit couple of them and shop a little. Shopping is a hassle in Nepal just as it is in India because you have to bargain. Everything is priced way over its worth so you have to try to bring down the price by 60% at least or you’re really being ripped off.

We managed to see a few other cities around, since one whole week in Kathmandu is a bit too much so we ventured out and saw Patan, Bhaktapur and on our trekking adventure we explored Nagarkot which is a beautiful district at 2600 altitude with a cool climate, great forests and lovely villages. We ate a lot, walked a lot, laughed a lot and just had an amazing time together just like the good old days.




“Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose.”

Courage doesn’t just mean attempting the most difficult challenge, going to war or attending a dangerous political protest, courage means standing strong in the most difficult situations, it means being patient and pushing through the hard times. If I know of anyone who has these qualities it’s my amazingly strong sisters Sahar and Sadaf Kiani.

They watched their mom go through Leukemia years ago, they watched their mom suffer in pain and agony and they never left her side. They stood by her stronger than ever, giving her hope and courage to fight and to live. They gave their mom a reason to want to live, to want to spend more time in this world with her loving daughters. They helped their mom fight the deadly disease and rise above it as a winner. But even after she had beaten the disease, they still remained by her side; they never for a moment left her side. Attending to their mother’s needs was their first priority in life.

Parand Payandeh Azad, Sahar and Sadaf’s mom, suffered a lot even after she overcame Leukemia. She fell ill very often since her body was very weak due to constant Chemotherapy and Radiation therapies. She was taken into ER many times during the day and night. Sahar and Sadaf were both there, and if one wasn’t there at the moment, the other made sure to be by Parand’s side. They loved their mother with all their heart, they cherished her and helped her remain hopeful and keep fighting to stay alive.

After suffering for many years being in and out of Emergency rooms almost every week, Parand passed away from heart failure on Thursday night, June 2nd.

Parand was a beautiful and loving mother; she was truly an amazing human being. She had such a positive outlook on life and always carried a beautiful smile on her face. Despite getting sick a lot she never showed any sadness or sorrow on her face and remained strong no matter what. She fought with tremendous amount of courage and never gave up. I admire her, I admire her strength and I admire my amazing Sahar and Sadaf for being so courageous and strong throughout their mother’s painful journey.

I know Parand is in a better place now, a place where she’s finally at peace, a place in which she doesn’t have to worry about kidney failure, heart problems, respiratory difficulties, etc. She will always be smiling down on her beautiful daughters and watching them live their lives as strong and motivated individuals as they both are.

My heart hurts at this time for them, my heart is in so much pain and I can’t even imagine what Sahar and Sadaf must be going through right now. This devastating news hit me really hard since both Sahar and Sadaf are very close friends of mine and I adored their mom so much. I know these two beautiful and strong women will get through this but no amount of strength can help you in a situation like this. They will have to go through the grieving process and only time and patience will heal their wound. They’ve been on my mind and in my prayers ever since I received the news and I just really wanted to write about these 3 courageous women and their story.

My lovely Sahar and Sadaf I love you both very much and am so sorry for your loss. I’m here for you both, always and forever.  As Maya Angelou says: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I will never forget your beautiful mom, Parand, because she made me feel loved every time I was around her. No one will ever forget her; her memory and her love will always live inside all of us.

Sahar, Parand and Sadaf

Trip from hell

I apologize to all my faithful readers for my long absence. I’ve been busy traveling, packing, unpacking, and checking yet into another hotel and so on. My past month has been just that, and I tell you I’m sick and tired of airports, train stations, hotels, restaurants, and everything else that comes with traveling. I’d kill for a homemade meal and a place I could call “home” for longer than a week. I will now try to demonstrate my journey in this past month for you all.

After I left Goa I went back to Kerala, specifically Kannur because I couldn’t think of a better place to call “home”. I needed the familiarity even if it was for a short period of time. I checked into a hotel that was very close to my old apartment, my lovely apartment with my lovely Marta, oh how I miss those days. Anyhow everyone at the hotel already knew me, everyone on the street knew me so it was nice to be somewhere where I was recognized even for a few days. My plan was just to spend a few days to plan my next move until I fell sick and had to spend 2 days in bed unable to move. So my few days turned into almost a week. I think it was partly due to the awful journey we had from Goa to Kerala. Our train tickets weren’t confirmed, Marta and her boyfriend Emanuel also came with me since they had to catch a flight back to Italy in Calicut (Closest airport to Kannur), so we booked the ticket online and were put on waitlist. This had happened to Marta before and she assured me we’d have no trouble getting on the train. Well I wish that was true.

We did get on the train at 9:30 PM, a full train, we walked back and forth on the train with all of our extremely heavy luggage and there wasn’t a single seat in the AC compartment. We found ourselves in front of the toilet in the hallway arguing with the guy in charge, basically begging him for seats. He wasn’t having it, he told us that the train was full and that we had to pay a fine because we got on the train without confirmed tickets. I mean he had a point, we had paid for the tickets but in bold letters on the print out it said that our tickets were just waitlisted and we had to confirm them on the day of the journey. Long story short, we sat on top of our luggage for an hour in front of the stinking toilet until we got to the next station, we got down and proceeded to find another train. We bought tickets for the general compartment since those are the only last minute tickets you can buy at the counter, for AC tickets you must reserve and purchase in advance since they fill up fast. And the general compartment on Indian trains is no place for me, have you watched Borat? Remember when he arrives in NYC, gets on the Metro and all of a sudden releases a live chicken from his suitcase? Well imagine 60 Borats doing exactly that on the train. That’s the best description I can give of Indian train’s general compartment. We got on the train and the begging began for finding seats in the AC section, the dude in charge was nicer this time, he said we’d only have to sit on top of our luggage in the hallway for 2 hours and then we’ll have seats but not in the AC section but the sleeper non-AC, my nightmare, the 3 beds stacked on top of each other resembling a prison cell. But we had no choice; we paid the extra and decided to wait. We found some empty seats and the minute we sat down, all of us fell asleep since we were so exhausted only to be waken up 30 minutes later but a mean lady yelling “get up, get out, these are our seats”. We jumped up, and at this point it was already 1 AM. We once again found ourselves in the hallway. We finally had confirmed seats after an hour. We didn’t sit at this point, we passed out. I was lucky I woke up exactly 10 minutes before reaching my station. Kannur was before Calicut so I had to say bye to Marta at 5 AM. Water works begun on the train, it was so difficult, my exhausted body was in pain and now my heart was aching. I said bye to my lovely Italian, to the woman who had become my sister, companion, partner, and everything in only 3 months. That journey was a nightmare in every aspect, one I’d like to forget soon.

I took an auto rickshaw and checked into a hotel and slept for 2 days straight especially cause I got sick and was miserable. Here’s the thing about getting sick while you’re on your own, you have nobody to take care of you and that truly sucks. I had no energy to get out of bed but I knew I had to do something, so by day 3 I dragged my half dead body to the market where I got some lemons, ginger, and honey and I put myself on lemon ginger tea with honey diet for a few days after that. I’d only call room service to order a thermos of hot water. I refuse to take Allopathic medicine now (unless it’s an absolute emergency); if Ayurveda taught me one thing was to cure myself with correcting my diet, resting and taking natural remedies. The pain in my throat was so strong though that I decided to buy some Ayurvedic medicine for the throat while I was out, it was extremely effective. But since staying inside and doing nothing is against my nature, after 3 days in bed I finally got up in the morning and decided to roam the town and do something with my bored self. It was hot in Kannur, and I walked from 11 AM to 6 PM, all around the city, shopping. Shopping not for myself but for my family. I had decided to make myself busy with a project, and my project was to prepare a box to send back home to my mom, sister, and brother. That became my mission, and I bought lots of wonderful Ayurvedic products, some nice Indian cotton clothes, and lots of other little things. But around 6 PM, the heat finally got to me and I was so fatigued that I had to rush back to the hotel to once again pass out on the bed.

That’s basically how I spent my days in Kannur, preparing the box and drinking lemon ginger tea with honey. My next plan was to meet one of my best friends in Nepal. How we decided on Nepal is another story, well not a long one at all, truth is she really wanted to come and see me in India but it would take at least one week to get the visa and she didn’t have that luxury since she had taken the last week of May off and when we were making this plan it was already May 18th. So we proceeded to check counties around this region that didn’t require visa for Canadian citizens since she has a Canadian passport. And Nepal seemed promising; you could just get a visa on arrival. And what better place to go than Nepal? It’s in the Himalayans with a cooler climate and lots to do from shopping, visiting temples to trekking and rafting.

Nepal was planned in less than a day and we booked our tickets and our hotel. It was totally a last minute spontaneous decision that gave me something amazing to look forward to, seeing my beautiful friend after such a long time. I booked my train ticket to Calicut and left Kannur on Saturday May 21st, spend a night in Calicut and then flew to Kathmandu on Monday, May 23rd.

(Nepal story and more to come in the next post)

Adios Kerala…

I packed my bags and left Kannur last week. I had accumulated so many books, clothes, oils, containers, etc in the past 3 months that my mom and I ended up checking in 2 overweight suitcases and taking 8 bags onto the plane without paying any extra fees. I don’t know how we did but in India anything is possible. We were able to walk onto the plane holding 4 bags each, 2 of which were filled with books totaling around 10 kilos. If my mom hadn’t come to Kannur there was no way I could pack everything and move all that luggage on my own. She was an enormous help not only with the luggage but she was also there for me emotionally and I needed that. Leaving Kannur was extremely difficult for me, change is always hard but this one in particular hit me really hard since I had such a great time with Marta and Kannur had become our home.

We arrived in Delhi where my dad was awaiting our arrival impatiently. He had checked into a hotel for us and I had no idea what to expect. One thing you need to know about my dad is that he loves luxury, you’d never know by just looking at him because he dresses very simple, doesn’t drive a fancy car and doesn’t like to show off at all. But when it comes to traveling he loves to indulge and enjoy himself so he had booked us 2 rooms at the Taj Mahal hotel in New Delhi which I was about to find out was one the fanciest hotels in India. I was wearing my very old washed out clothes looking pretty dirty and tired. And instead of getting the expensive taxi with the AC at the airport I told my mom we should get a cheap prepaid taxi, one of those 20 year old Indian cars with a super old engine that makes these strange loud sounds.

As we got closer to the hotel I knew we were in trouble, the neighborhood was so beautiful and clean and looked totally posh. I felt like I could be anywhere, Paris, Milan, San Francisco, anywhere but India. The India I had seen so far looked nothing like Delhi. Delhi is a big cosmopolitan city just like any other big city, it has nice big roads filled with cars and taxis, shopping malls, restaurants, coffee shops everywhere. It was way less green than Kerala of course, all I saw on that drive from the airport to the hotel was cars, cars, and more cars driving on big highways and roads. In Kerala, the national highway consisted of a narrow 2 lane road that had pits and holes and speed bumps within every few miles.

Our loud taxi pulled up the hotel. This hotel was giant, totally luxurious filled with lush colors and textures from the fabrics on the curtains to the art on the walls to the Sarees hotel staff were wearing. It looked like a palace. It was beautiful honestly but I felt so out of place. I was wearing my very simple black shirt that I have worn over a hundred times in the past 3 months with my orange Indian pants that make me look like I have baby diapers in my pants with a pair of slippers that are so dirty I don’t even remember what their original color was. And on top of that we had way too much luggage, and not fancy Louis Vuitton suitcases that I saw around the hotel, our consisted of Whole Foods and Trader Joes grocery bags. Yes I was very embarrassed, I just wanted to get inside the room and never come out.

I thought I’d enjoy a bit of luxury after living in a small city for 3 months where options were limited when it came to food, shopping, and everything else in general. But I quickly found out I was a changed woman, I think I had started changing way before but the drastic change happened after my 3 months in Kannur. I now appreciate the simple life, I appreciate the comfort of it and the stress free nature of it. The more options and choices we have in this world, the harder it will be for us to make decisions. Imagine a life where you walked into Whole Foods and it only consisted of 6 aisles total and if you wanted yogurt, there was only one kind so you never really had to think about which brand to buy, you’d just walk up to the aisle, grab your yogurt and go home. Imagine how much time you could save? This is so lame that I’m trying to make my point by giving an example of a grocery store but I love grocery shopping. To me it’s fun and exciting to walk through each and every aisle, pick up every box, read the label carefully and then pick the one I like the most out of all the other options. No one likes to go grocery shopping with me because I could be in the store for an hour or two easily. But in Kannur I was in and out within 15 minutes. I thought I’d miss my old ways but I didn’t and I was quiet satisfied with my new grocery shopping style in which I saved so much time that I actually had extra time to get home early enough to cook dinner.

The week I spent in Delhi was a constant battle for me. I liked the city and loved the fact that I was spending every waking hour with my parents but I felt so guilty eating at fancy restaurants where a simple Indian entrée could cost up to 1200 Rupees. My lunch cost me 18 Rupees in Kannur and it was just as good and satisfying. I also didn’t find the city as interesting as I had hoped. To me Delhi is a city without character, it lacks personality and charm and there’s nothing exciting about it. It’s a clean city (well not all parts of it) filled with good looking people who dress up and look put together at all times. I also really got sick of the hotel staff being overly attentive and trying to carry my bags, opening doors and constantly calling me “ma’am”. I lost my patience towards the end and just told them straight up I didn’t need their help so I carried my own bags, opened my own doors and served my own food. Do people actually enjoy that? Do people enjoy having someone else doing things for them all the times? Well I’m sure there are people who love that or the hotel wouldn’t be packed every day and night with travelers coming and going. I know I won’t be going back for sure.

After a week in Delhi, I couldn’t wait to get back to nature, to the beach and to the simple way of life. So I decided to come to Goa, not the touristy over the top Goa but the more quiet remote beaches of Goa. Marta and Emanuel (her boyfriend) have been traveling in India for the past week and we all thought of meeting here in south Goa in Palolem beach. I arrived here a day before they did and found a very nice simple resort by the beach. I love this resort, it’s nothing fancy, just a basic room with a bed in it. It’s not really a resort or a hotel but more like a group of cottages for rent. It’s gorgeous here, weather is lovely cause we always get the breeze from the ocean, food is delicious and cheap and best part is it’s quiet and not crowded with tourists, fancy coffee shops, clubs, bars, etc. It’s very calm and relaxing and that’s exactly what I need right now. I want to enjoy the peace, go kayaking, swimming, read, write and just relax for a week. Everybody here is clearly on vacation, so they just sit around, read, chat with each other and do nothing else. It’s pretty great!

I love you Marta

It’s finally here, the week I’ve been dreading for as long as I can remember, my last week in Kannur, last week of my Ayurveda school here, and the last week I’ll spend every waking hour with my lovely Marta. I’ve been extremely emotional lately, Marta and I spend every moment together, hold hands, talk until the late hours of the night and have both been crying a lot. It’s unreal to feel so close to someone in such a short period of time. In only 3 months I’ve made a best friend who’s become as close to me as my sister. I really believe in fate, Marta and I were meant to meet at the airport in Doha so we could spend these past 3 months being each other’s companions. I’m so glad we shared this amazing experience together. We keep recollecting our memories and everything we went through from our apartment hunting to watching the Bachelor on TV every night after school to laughing so much in school that our jaws would start hurting. We even started completing each other’s sentences and I started understanding Italian, but only when she spoke it because I got to know her so well and could read her mind before she even opened her mouth. She wrote little notes and left them by my bed, randomly bought me thoughtful little gifts, did my laundry whenever I was tired, cooked amazing Italian food for me over and over, talked to me whenever I needed someone, sat by my bed and took care of me if I felt sick, and so much more. I can’t say enough wonderful things about her and how great she’s been to me, she was my own personal guardian angel sent from above to watch out for me, take care of me and love me like a sister would. I love her and know that we will meet again very soon, I’m sure of it.

Marta is leaving Kannur 3 days before me. Her boyfriend is coming here and they’re going to travel around India for 3 weeks before heading back home. I had originally planned to go with them until I learned my dad was coming to visit me during the first week of May. What I didn’t know until a few days ago was that my mom was also planning on coming and wanted to surprise me but she couldn’t keep the secret and called me as soon as she got her visa. That was probably the best phone call of my life, I was on the school bus going to school when she gave me the news and I got so excited I wanted to jump off the bus and dance. She’s coming to Kannur at the end of this month to spend a couple of days here with me and then we fly to Delhi together to meet my dad. I will spend a week with them traveling around, a week that I’m very much looking forward to. I’ve been waking up every morning imagining what I’d do when I see my mom get off the taxi here at my apartment in Kannur. It seems so unreal. Is it really happening? It’s like a dream come true, I can’t stop smiling when I think of seeing her face and jumping into her arms and kissing her. And to top it off I will be in my dad’s arms just a few days later. It means so much to me to have my parents come all this way across the world to visit me, especially since I know how busy they both are with work and life. When I told my dad how excited I was and how much I appreciated that he was coming to visit, he said “You don’t have to thank us, it’s our duty to come.”

Both my parents are very eager to come and want to bring stuff for me. Dealing with my mom in this matter has been super easy, I gave her a list of things I want her to bring and she’s already bought them and is ready to pack her suitcase and come. My dad is a whole different story though. He heard through some strange source (me) that there’s not much fruits and vegetables in India. I might have told him that fruits and veggies are seasonal here and you can only find 4 or 5 different kinds at the market each month. So when he called to ask what I needed from Iran, he started his sentence by saying something like this: “I will bring you lots of fruits and nuts, especially raw pistachios cause I know they are your favorite, but what else do you need? Should I bring you some dried herbs and snacks as well?” Arguing with my dad is pretty pointless cause at the end he does what he wants. I begged him not to bring fruits but raw pistachios are a different story cause he knows I love them. He says he MUST bring the pistachios and I can’t talk him out of it. I know my dad very well and I know he’ll show up with 2 suitcases filled with food items cause that’s what he does every time he comes to the States. I always wonder how he gets through the Customs check at SFO cause if they opened his suitcases they would think he’s illegally smuggling dried herbs, tomato paste, pomegranate sauce, honey, etc. He doesn’t bring one of each item, he brings a suitcase filled of each, and I’m not joking.

Whether or not my parents show up with suitcases filled with goodies, I’m just purely excited and happy to see them. I have missed my family way too much and having them here in India was nothing but a dream a few weeks ago, but that dream is turning into reality in a week!

Loving it…

I love my life here in Kannur. I’ve been here for two and half months now, and can’t get enough of India’s wonderfulness. I’m totally shocked at how well and how quickly I adjusted to my new environment and how easily I fell in love with Kerala, I can’t yet say I’m in love with all of India since I’ve been in Kannur mainly and some other cities around here. But I do know that I will love the rest of India as much as I love it here. I have 3 more weeks left of my Ayurveda program here in Kannur and then I’m off to traveling through India visiting Ashrams and doing Yoga in Mysore and Auroville (hopefully). I haven’t made any specific plans yet, the decision to come here was a very impulsive one and one that wasn’t planned a year in advance or even 6 months in advance. I decided to come to India and 3 months later I was here. So I want to keep the spirit of spontaneity alive throughout the rest of my adventures here and go with the flow.

This first leg of my trip has been mainly about Ayurveda which I’m totally in love with and don’t think I’m going to stop studying after I leave India. But for now I want to put it on hold and shift my focus to Yoga. I’ve been doing Yoga here almost everyday and took a yoga therapy course as well but my practice hasn’t been as rigorous as I would like it to be. We spent a lot of time learning about the therapeutic aspect of Yoga postures and not as much time practicing them. Now I’m ready to push myself and really focus on my Ashtanga practice.

I get sadder and sadder as I’m approaching the end of my time here in Kannur. I definitely made a home for myself here and met so many wonderful people not only at school but also by just walking around and talking to people on the street. Kannur is a small city so you’re bound to run into the same people almost everyday especially if you’re traveling the same path everyday. Marta and I see the same people on our way to school almost everyday and they all know us and greet us with so much warmth and love. We wait in the same spot for our school bus every morning, in front of a small Chai/dairy counter; it’s a small booth that belongs to a very sweet old man. He makes some amazing Chai every morning and there’s always a long line of men waiting to taste his Chai and occasionally women stop by to buy milk or yogurt from him. We greet him every morning and buy 2 bottles of water from him just to give him business. He’s a very nice old man who’s English consists of just a few basic words such as “cool water” or “bus not come yet”. As we were waiting for the bus a few days ago Marta turned to me and said “Isn’t it strange that we’ve been seeing the same guy every morning for the past 2 months and in a few weeks we will probably never see him again in our lives.”

I’m not ready to leave Kannur but I know I have to because I have to keep moving forward in my life and I have to embark on my next adventure. But the good thing is I will be in India for a while, I have no idea how much longer since I didn’t buy a return ticket home but I know that I’m happy here and don’t want to leave anytime soon. I miss my family and friends insanely and I miss my life in beautiful San Francisco but at this present moment I don’t want to miss my life here in India, I want to live it and love every moment of it!


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