It's hard to believe I've been traveling in Asia for over 2 months already. It seems like just yesterday I was getting on a plane from Baltimore to New Delhi, India. I spent my first day in India sick from airplane food and unable to leave my room. The strange noises outside were a reminder of what was waiting for me. What has happened since then has been one of the best experiences of my life.
I often hear people say that traveling is the only thing you can buy that makes your life richer. If a rich life is determined by how much you live and how much you love others, then traveling indeed enriches your life. I am beginning to see why people spend months and years backpacking through other countries. Being out of my comfort zone in a foreign land has had a gentle yet profound way of both inspiring and changing me at the same time.
I believe that we all write our own stories in life, much like writing an auto-biography. In many parts of the world long-term travel at a young age is common, while in America people often wait till retirement. I'm choosing to write this chapter of my life now while I am young and can travel freely. I've worked hard and faced many fears to get where I am today. I made numerous sacrifices and gave up a comfortable life to venture out into the world with nothing more than what I can carry with me. There are many kilometers of walking, busses, trains, and plane rides still ahead. I realize now, better than ever, that I don't know what to expect and that makes me excited.
When I decided to return to Asia, I wanted to be free to travel as I pleased. I chose to buy a one-way ticket and figure things out along the way. I've learned and adjusted every day. I am no longer bothered by the curious stares I encounter walking down the street. It quickly became normal to see people driving on the left hand side of the road. Here in Nepal, now when I eat Dahl Bhatt (rice and lentil soup) with goat meat for breakfast, I don't think twice about it. I can tell people my name and where I am from, order food, and pay for things without using English. I know how to pick out the good street food stalls just by looking at them, and I know what foods to order.
Living in a foreign place, traveling, eating strange foods, learning a new language, and figuring it all out as I go is empowering. Now, I am more confident and open to what the day will bring. I say "namaste" and bow with my hands in front of me when I meet people, and they repeat it back to me. I accept offers of tea, and have conversations with strangers who in some cases I have know for only minutes. Their names no longer tangle my tongue and their stories fascinate me.
I've had countless in-depth discussions with strangers and new friends about subjects I don't discuss at home. It's enlightening in new and profound ways to learn things from so many different perspectives. Conversations with people from other countries remind me that we all suffer the same things throughout humanity. The more of the world, I see the more I realize how much we really are all the same.
As technology becomes more and more pervasive, it's getting harder to be present in the moment. I only have internet access via wifi, so I avoid the constant interruption of texts, alerts, and calls. Some days I have no schedule, no particular place to be, and no smart phone. I am able to simply be present in the moment in a way that I can't easily do at home. I'm so used to doing things, going places, and keeping a schedule that it feels strange to be able to simply be somewhere.
I enjoy walking out the door in one direction or the other. I let where I walk determine what will happen that day. I've found magnificent temples and amazing foods while wandering around. I've also unknowingly walked down streets that I probably shouldn't have, but I'm still here to tell about it. Each day is a new adventure, and it's becoming obvious that I won't be able to go back to life as I knew it in quite the same way.
I began my journey in Delhi, India. Crowded with millions of people, it's home to every part of humanity from the richest to the poorest. I spent my first week in India walking through historic places, experiencing the culture, and enjoying amazing food. I was barely able to grasp the magnitude of the journey that I had begun.
Next, in Agra I visited the Taj Mahal, one of the so-called wonders of the new world. Made entirely from white marble, it is one of the most spectacular tombs on earth. I walked through the ancient gardens and thought of what it would have looked like long ago. I became friends with an Indian family, and experienced the hospitality and kindness of the Indian people when we celebrated the spring Holi festival together. They made me the guest of honor in their community, and opened their homes and hearts to me.
From Agra I took an overnight train to Varanasi, the holiest Hindu city. It's a very auspicious place to die and be cremated according to Hindu beliefs. Situated on the bank of the Ganga (Ganges) river, Varanasi is a vibrant city of life and death. It's a place where the practice of cremation has gone on for thousands of years along side bustling morning bathing rituals on the stone ghats (steps) along the Ganga.
Varanasi is an ancient maze of narrow cobblestone streets that is home to over 2,000 temples. The sights, sounds, and smells of that place are unforgettable. The energy of both life and death is present at all times. Day and night I heard men chanting while carrying bodies wrapped in splendid fabrics through the streets to the cremation ghats. Those sounds contrasted with the sounds of temple bells and mixed with the buzz of motorcycles in the narrow streets.
After Varanasi I flew to Kathmandu, Nepal. Both countries are distinctly Asian, but almost immediately I noticed the differences. Nepal is cleaner, less hectic, and feels a bit more refined then the parts of India I have seen. It has since become one of my favorite places. The people are warm and welcoming, and the food and culture are rich with history. After a week of hanging out and sightseeing in Kathmandu I left for a trek around the Annapurna Circuit.
I set out on the journey of 250 kilometers (155 miles) with four newfound friends. Often regarded as one of the best treks in the world, The Annapurna Circuit did not disappoint. Pictures fall short and it's impossible for words to describe the experience of trekking in the Himalayas. We traveled through different climates and ecosystems, slept in ancient villages, crossed swinging bridges, and passed countless religious monuments. Climbing the 5416 meter (17,769 feet) Thorong La Pass was the highest point of the journey, and an experience I will never forget. I felt like I could conquer anything after that.
After trekking I went on safari in Chitwan National Park for my birthday. I saw a tiger, many rhinos, wild boar, crocodiles, a jackal, birds, deer, and more. For the first time, I was able to see animals I had only seen in a zoo in their natural habitat. It was a dream come true and I felt very connected with nature as I walked through the jungle.
Since my return to Katmandu I have spent my time teaching music at Career Building International Acadamy. It has given me great pleasure to work with such talented students and teachers. I could see the inspiration taking hold in their eyes when I gave drum set demonstrations. Later, during concerts with a fellow traveling musician we felt like rock stars. The students crowded around us pushing their way up to the front and dancing.
I shared my passion for creativity by giving Creative Problem Solving trainings at the school and a local volunteer organization. The teachers and staff I worked with were excited to learn CPS so the could use it in their work. The feedback I received was very positive and I am looking forward to giving more workshops abroad.
My Nepali visa will run out again next week, and I have decided not to extend it this time, so I will return to India. I am both excited and saddened at the thought of leaving this place and all of my new friends behind. I am sure that I will return to Nepal, and know I will miss this place and it's people.
I am starting to get used to making friends quickly and then moving on. I do my best every day to share a part of myself and my passion with each one of them. I'm here not only to travel and experience other parts of the world, but also to make the world a better place and inspire others through my passion. As I look ahead I can only wonder what else awaits me on the journey.