There is a Road Less Traveled style adventure cutting right through the urban landscape of Yangon, Myanmar. With a decent sense of balance and comfort with risk, a unique walk leads from the center of the city to its edges. The entire sojourn occurs along a steel water pipe, commissioned by the colonial British, that runs over 50km to a reservoir. The location was shared with me by Blue Temple who are involved in inspiring community enhancement projects around the pipe. Check out what they've done.
A few things to keep in mind:
On the maps below you'll see where to start and an ideal place to end.
Enjoy this unique adventure away from the tourist hotspots and the cacophony of the city streets.
Everything in life has a beginning, middle, and end. This transitory nature of existence applies to the hard physical world where atoms are constantly spinning and shifting, and it also speaks to the nature of your conscious awareness.
Your awareness is, in fact, the only world you'll ever know. The landscape that appears within is different than what's in mine, even if we were sitting at the same restaurant, eating the same dish, and enjoying the same view.
You are the Hindu godhead of this conscious world: creating, maintaining, and destroying its constructs. One event that reliably generates this process of change is travel.
Travel is one of Shiva's world destroying dances and it's also the lotus bloom opening of Brahma's creation. When you have unique, intimate experiences with people who appear different than you, something shifts. An outdated, oversimplified, and often fearful impression is destroyed, so that a newer, fresher, more nuanced one can come to life.
So you had a little travel fling.. right on! Romantic connection is a beautiful, enlivening thing, It's a mind expanding experience (if you are actually taking interest in the contents of each other's brains).
Now you're back home and still flirting over a texting app. An invitation appears: "Come back and see me." You flip open your laptop and start browsing flights.
It's an admirable move. The mark of a romantic soul. However, let's adjust expectations and strategy before buying that ticket. Misadventure may await you. Are you ready for it?
These are ever present possibilities, but don't be dissuaded. Instead, change your perspective and approach:
Revisiting a travel fling is always a toss of the dice, but with the right preparation you can stack the odds in favor of a winning roll. By setting a realistic frame and controling expectations one can have a memorable trip no matter which numbers turn up. And remember the goal is that both people end up feeling empowered from this interaction. Let's all leave a trail of beautiful memories in our wake. Be honest. Be kind. Be your best self.
The above video does not truly convey the beauty of Rishikesh. It's located on a stunning stretch of the Ganges headwaters. It's full of soft-hearted pilgrims trudging not towards a religious obligation, but rather a personal search for enlightenment and transcendence. As the birthplace of yoga, the town is full of ashrams and studios where one can sleep, eat, and practice for as little as 15 USD a day. The surrounding hills are laced with steep trails and the riverbank provides opportunities to scamper, boulder, or find blissful seclusion.
The town is also a massive resource of wisdom (and a bit of chicanery) as dozens of "gurus" hold open meetings, called satsang, free of charge. Naturally there must be some commercial incentive for pasting glossy headshots of the charismatic leaders all over town. There is most likely a sliding scale of intention, from those hoping to accrue power and wealth via a spiritual avenue, those looking to share a message while keeping their operation afloat, and those who believe these two objectives can be ethically integrated.
I visited several of these satsang, dividing my attention between the guru and his/her audience. The teachers ranged from pure charlatan to well intentioned. The best had informative wisdom on the nature of consciousness. They attempt to drop the right insight or pose the right question which will enable the seeker to break free of the dominant paradigm of what the Hindu's would call "maya" and the modern world would understand as "the matrix". That is the illusion of a separate self schlepping through a foreign world, motivated by fear, lurching toward ephemeral pleasures and away from pain. Keep climbing until you reach the promised rung of contentment or die on the ladder.
The audience of these gurus tilts heavily towards the wide-eyed and credulous, the majority of skeptics perhaps having written off the whole scene. This is an understandable division. There is quite a stew of woo woo sloshing around the sphere of Rishikesh. One will hear many insightful observations about the experience of consciousness mixed in with improbable yet assured metaphysical claims about the nature of physical reality. Unfortunately this combination means that many savvy intellects who could benefit from the baby in the bathwater will stay away, and the overly impressionable will drink the whole concoction down. Con artists thrive among the latter group, the wise have a small audience among the former.
Although I too may be self-deluded, I believe I've plucked some diamonds from the experience of Rishikesh; including a more committed yoga practice and deeper meditation sessions. It's a place I recommend all "spiritual" seekers visit, with a healthy balance of openness and critical thinking.
Links related to video:
John de Ruiter according to Globe and Mail
and according to Vice
Two gurus I would visit again (this does not entail an endorsement nor do i concur with all their ideas. Rather I believe them to be well-intentioned, humble, and in possession of some unique insight)
Recently my backpack fell off a luggage rack and straight across my shoulders. It was a 30 pound reminder of a principle I had forgotten to employ: Always strap up your backpack on the racks. It will keep you protected from such an incident and foil any opportunistic thief who attempts a quick grab and run. The longer the crook has to fumble with your clips, the higher the chance they will abort mission. Face all zippers away from the aisle.
Additionally keep your wallet/phone/passport away from the pant's pocket which faces the aisle. Zipping them up in an internal jacket space is the ideal.
Now 99% of the folks you meet in public transpo are friendly. In consideration of these good guys grab a bag of snacks at a kiosk before your journey. It's amazing how much good will a few pistachios or a tiny candy can generate. The appreciative locals are now likely to share something with you, wake you up when your stop arrives, and scare off the big bad thief after he discovers your bag has been strapped to the rack.
Last week I spoke in San Francisco about the value of having a mission weaving through our travels. On the road, as in life, possessing a plan, even a ridiculous one, is better than aimlessly following the crowds. The right mission will pull you out of the tourism funnel and into places where you will meet genuine locals and have unique experiences.
Here are a few missions I've pursued on and off the Road Less Traveled:
And here are some silly ideas for future trips:
Have any other great travel mission ideas? Have you experienced travel with a silly scheme as a backbone? Please tell me about it in the comments.
Travel bloggers love to drop this ubiquitous tip:
It sure seems like good advice on the surface, but it's not. I have never carried paper when traveling. I'll tell you why.
Firstly, a lot of plumbing in the world can't handle your TP. You could plug up the system if you flush your squares. What a terrible ambassador to your country you'd be.
But here is the primary thing: The true traveler loves the local scene. Every travel blog will suggest you eat local food. They encourage you to socialize with locals. They give you insider info on where the locals hang out. It's all local, local, local until it comes down to defecating. Why not learn how to crap like a local? You traveled to expand your horizons, right?
Now in all fairness some locals do carry their own TP depending on the destination, but many do not for a reason. That reason is they use a water hose or water dipper (accompanied by the scrubbing power of the left hand), to clean their bung bung. Just like using chopsticks, there will be a learning curve before you master the technique. If you don't do deep squats at the gym you'll have to work on some strength, flexibility, and balance. You must practice to blindly locate the sweet spot on the small of your back that channels the water just right. You need a modicum of patience for the drip dry. But once you have it all down you'll find the technique better suited to the task. Moreover finding a water container is always a piece of cake no matter where you roam.
You'd be ashamed to carry a fork into a Phó restaurant in Vietnam, so why are you carrying that TP into the toilet?
I'm Jonathan Legg
The road has been my greatest teacher.. challenging stagnant beliefs, disarming prejudices, and developing understanding of others. I hope the content on this blog will bring a sliver of that juju to you.