The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

The Pandemic, Traveling and the Power of NOW

World Moms Network changed my life.

The first time I traveled out of my country was in 2013. Jennifer Burden, Founder of World Moms Network, celebrated. She couldn’t stop talking about it on social media. I went to Chicago to collect the BlogHer International Activist Award on behalf of World Moms Network (at that time we were still World Moms Blog). That trip was life-changing.

Less than a year later, I went to Brazil on a reporting project, also representing World Moms Network [WMN]. It was my third time out of India. Jen sent me a card that said, “Report your heart out.” The words have stayed with me ever since and every trip after that continued to be life-changing. 

Now the world has changed and travel is restricted.

As I write this from India, we cannot travel to the next block or even the supermarket. So what of travels on planes or cars or trains, or even trucks? 

From an early age, my father used to take me on trips all over India, a few times every year. We used to attend a lot of the Heartfulness events, which happened all over India. I enjoyed not just the pleasure of a trip but also connecting heartfully with new people. Being part of events and celebrations, and networking with people for a purpose, for altruism, for serving humanity has always been part of my life. Perhaps being part of the World Moms Network, is a naturally joyful process because of that lifelong experience of trying newness, initiated by my father. 

So, traveling to the USA, or the UK or Brazil, and other countries was an extension of my childhood. The evolution of learning; the journey of growing as a person; the joy of seemingly tiny moments, continued.

Traveling is a privilege not a necessity.

Let me make a few things clear before I continue. First, I was not born into privilege but to a middle-class family. We saved money for our travels across India. That felt important to my father and as an extension to us. Second, now that we travel outside of India, we still save money, because that continues to be important to us as a family.

Also, I would like to point out, if you make intelligent financial decisions while planning travel, you can make it more affordable.

Also, for those who have challenging financial situations, I am not saying it is imperative for you to travel to find meaning in life. I would never say that. That would be thoughtless. I am not one to judge anyone. I am merely sharing my heart, my experiences, and my joys.

Adrianna and her son in Brazil

Traveling has made my heart softer.

Though not born into privilege, I lived in a very privileged atmosphere within my family, with all my needs fulfilled as well as some wants, and even a few luxuries. Though we were just a normal middle-class family, we were also content, satisfied, and always joyful – my father made sure of that. So, I have never had a need go unmet.

These days, every time I come across a mother in the slums, I am constantly reminded of Adrianna from Brazil, whom I met during one of the reporting trips. I wonder if all her 11 children are fed and receive an education. I wonder if she has a good job. I wonder if she is happy. I wonder if she had any more children. It makes me think of not only her but also about many other people Around the world.

I also think of Karma, the guide I met in Bhutan. He told us that, at the juncture of every Buddhist shrine, he is going to pray to Buddha so that he gets admitted to a university in Paris for his postgraduate degree in tourism. I wonder if he got in, and if he did, what is he doing now? And what happened to him when the world went into lockdown, with the tourist industry being the worst affected of all.

With Karma in Bhutan

Just before lockdown, my family and I traveled to Egypt. In Luxor, we met Abdul, our guide. He had just had a baby and was always impatiently (and endearingly) waiting for us to wrap up our day, so he could rush home to his wife and baby. Where are they now? How are they managing their livelihood? 

Traveling makes us think.

It expands our horizon; it helps create empathy; it has made me care more. I care for Abdul’s family. I care for Karma’s aspirations. I care for Adrianna and her babies. But I also know that my caring for them alone is not going to help them. A larger force is necessary for the world to get back to normal, to defeat that tiny microscopic invisible virus, now mutating into other variants. 

Traveling instills joy.

And now, not being able to travel, has made life very different. I look for joy in other things. I have discovered the joy of long walks. During the beginning of lockdown, there was just a ban on international and domestic travel but we could still move freely within the city and state. I used to go walking here in Chennai by the banks of the River Adyar. I spent nearly 2 hours every evening, walking beside the river. The narrow dirt road, the setting sun, the buffaloes bathing in the river, cranes and a few exotic seasonal birds hopping by to say hello, and me listening to my favorite Laurie Santos podcast. Now, even these are nostalgic these days.

Finding joy in other ways

On Thursdays, I would take my weekly WMN Editors’ call as I walked. Sometimes I would have just returned from my walk, with a fresh mind and joy in my heart, I would bond with my WMN girlfriends over a cup of hot ginger chai. On other days, I used to walk my feet off, and it felt good. Walking was my substitute to travel, it felt like trekking or hiking. But now, with my state entering complete lockdown, I miss my walks too. I miss the goats and buffaloes walking towards me and meeting occasional friends on the walking trail.

Lessons learned

One thing I have learned through all the travels, through all the walks, through all the lockdowns—which India is now so famous for—is to be in the HERE and NOW. To be present. The planning of the relaunch of the World Moms Network was the highest point in my life. I say the highest because I was at my lowest possible and it was these wonderful women from WMN who perked me up EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. That gift was the most important for me then. The relaunch? Yes, of course, now that Is also a gift but the invaluable presence of the planning phase was when I felt the greatest joy. 

Have you ever experienced the joy of a trek? I have. When we rowed the Phewa lake in Nepal and then trekked over a hilltop. We took breaks in between to drink chai from the village chai shops. When we finally reached the top of Peace Pagoda, it was like deja vu. I am sure you understand that. The joy of the journey of the NOW was the greatest. The sights and sounds and smells of the NOW were more precious than any future sightings of a heritage site. 

Traveling has made me appreciate the power of the now. 

But what of the NOW we are all going through? I will not be surprised if I feel nostalgic someday about the NOW of the pandemic. I already missed my girls last Thursday, when we did not meet (because of conflicts) for our editorial meeting. 

What else will I miss? Surely having my son around all the time. He is having a great time with two monitors attached to his laptop—one with online chess and the other with online school—as I holler in the background to close the chess window and focus on the school. I am sure I will feel lonely when he is back to full-time school and away from home for 8 hours. 

It is best to stay here and enjoy and be grateful for all that I have now.

Yes, I do miss traveling but I think I enjoy drinking chai every evening with my neighborhood girlfriends on the terrace of my house. And no trip can replace the soul-stirring conversation we have every day. 

Travelling gives me joy, zest, but this lockdown has given me so much rest too. It makes me take leaps of faith into the unknown. Lockdown has restored my faith in humanity too when I witness so many random acts of kindness between strangers. Travelling has made me realize that I know so little of this whole world and that there is so much more to know and experience and eat and see and do.

But this lockdown has also made me realize that I know so little of myself, of my family, of what we can do together when cooped up in a house for such a long time, of all the loves and joys we derive in each other’s company.

So, as I wait patiently, to start traveling again and to start walking beside the river again, I take a few deep breaths and let go…of myself, so I can enjoy the present and experience the joy of the NOW.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here . She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award . She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page . She also contributes to Huffington Post . Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!   This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.   She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace, What Remains Now and the Ethos of the Heart

Lumbini, Nepal: Buddha’s Birthplace, What Remains Now and the Ethos of the Heart

THE BIRTH OF Siddhārtha Gautama

6th Century BC:

The old nurse looked at her radiant Queen, Maya Devi. She still had the same sweet smile on her face, and nothing seemed to have changed since the day she was born, the day the old nurse picked her up as an infant. Pregnancy only made her glow more like the full moon. She still insisted doing things her way in that same charming captivating way like now, when she went bathing all by herself in the Puskarini pool, even though she was about to give birth in a fortnight. Her nurse watched helplessly as Maya played in the pool, with her friends amidst the pink and white lotus flowers. The nurse sighed, and got up to ready the sleeping arrangements for Maya. Maya had wanted to leave for her father’s home for birthing her child as was the custom of those times. But instead of leaving earlier by a month, she spent more time with her affectionate husband, King Suddodhana, the leader of the Shakya clan. On the way to her father’s place, she wanted to spend the night at the beautiful garden in Lumbini, which meant ‘the lovely.’

Just as the nurse was about to walk away towards the tents, she could sense something waswrong. She turned to see Maya’s face contorting in pain for just a moment. Or did she imagine it? She squinted her near-sighted eyes, and watched intently for a longer moment, and noticed the same expression again. Maya met her gaze, and the nurse knew it was time. She waded mid-pool and quickly helped her out of the water. Maya insisted on walking all the way to the tent without support, wincing during every contraction, supporting her hips with her arms. She did not reach the tent. She took a quick detour and halted below a strong and sturdy sal tree, under the full and bright moon of the first lunar month Vesak, of the New Year. She rested for a moment, as her womb contracted in divine agony. Her nurse held out her hand, but the all-time-self-sufficient Maya supported herself by clutching a branch, and birthed her handsome Prince, whom she named Siddhārtha, the one who achieves his goal. The Gods from heaven showered a stream of lukewarm water to clean the baby, and then another cooler shower. She thanked the Gods silently. As she gazed lovingly at her just born beautiful new baby boy, Siddhārtha walked seven steps on the lotus in the pond, as the lore goes.

 

Nativity Scene: The Birth of the Buddha

Nativity Scene: The Birth of the Buddha

Maya passed away 11 days later, leaving Siddhārtha in the hands of her sister Prajapati, who was also the second wife of her husband. Prajapati’s motherly love for Siddhārtha never made him realize the absence of his birth mother. The court astrologers predicted that the Prince would either become a great saint of modern times or a mighty Monarch.

As the story of the Buddha goes, Prince Siddhārtha abandoned the palace and the kingly riches in search of meaning for life and wandered away to the forests, at the age of 29. Through the strictest of penance, he eventually attained Nirvana or enlightenment at the age of 35.

Just before passing away at the age of 80, Buddha told his primary disciple and cousin, Ananda, that Lumbini his birth place would be one of the 4 holiest places which would attract Buddhists for all time.

***

May 2018:

LUMBINI, BIRTH PLACE OF BUDDHA, UNESCO World Heritage site

2500 years later today, the Lumbini garden remains so, as predicted by Buddha. In my eternal quest for all things Buddhist, I was taken to the serene land of Nepal, which is adorned by the whitest and most beautiful Himalayan Range to the north, and by the rather nondescript town of Lumbini to the South. I won’t go into details of how to reach Lumbini by road/air, where to stay once you reach there, or the best things to do there. You can find all of that in travel websites and travelogues written by travelers and tourists who have visited the place before me and who would visit after me.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

UNESCO World Heritage Site

For the travel-lusting curios, however, I am going to briefly share my experiences of visiting the Maya Devi temple in Lumbini. This temple is housed inside the Lumbini development complex which also has the Monastic zone and a Lumbini village zone. In 1978, many nations came forward to build monasteries depicting the evolution of Buddhist culture in their countries and I am going to share a few pictures of those different monasteries below. To confuse you further, when you visit, there are many gates to this complex, depending on how you plan to enter. Whichever of the 9 gates you choose, be sure to cover all the monasteries. They are absolutely lovely and unique and give you a flavour of their own respective countries.

A few of the monasteries below …

The Thailand Monastery

One of my favorite monasteries. It stands magnificent in snowy, pristine white glory; embodying purity. It is very well maintained with manicured lawns and neatly trimmed trees.

Thailand Monastery

Thailand Monastery

The insides of the Thai monastery is also very beautiful. The decorations of the Buddha, the culture reflecting in the ornate decorations, information on neat bulletin boards, and so on – all gave a very nicely organized monastery.

Insides of the Thai Monastery

Insides of the Thai Monastery

The Cambodian Monastery

This monastery reminded me very much of the Angkor Wat temple in its looks and structure. It is still work in progress with construction work going on, and dust billowing towards us, in the heat. We were forced to make a hasty retreat to the other monasteries, though this breath-taking beauty did not stop beckoning us…

Cambodian Monastery

Cambodian Monastery

The Myanmar Monastery

The Golden monastery from Myanmar decorated with green and gold paint, and a maroon balustrade to match, was a splendid sight from outside and inside too. It is a replica of the monastery in Yangon. My husband’s bucket list grew, with Myanmar as one of the places to visit, before the end of this year, as we breathed in the sight of this beautiful monastery.

Myanmar Monastery

Myanmar Monastery

The German Monastery

As we kept walking, we came across a circular lake, and on one side there is this beautiful German monastery called, ‘The Great Drigung Kagyud Lotus Stupa’. Do not let this humble, yet beautiful monastery mislead you, for you are about to witness wonder inside it.

German Monastery

German Monastery

As we entered this monastery, we were slowed down. There was not enough time in the world, to complete admiring the beautiful murals on the walls. There was a prayerful atmosphere which the monks tried hard to maintain inside the prayer room. It was simply splendid. I recommend, you sit down for a few minutes to meditate here. No photography is allowed inside, for which I am thankful, because our senses were already assaulted enough, just admiring the murals inside.

Inside the German Monastery

Inside the German Monastery

At times, I was so glad for these “No photography” signs because Nature was giving us a chance to just sit, allow the beauty to descend into you, both in a way of the senses and also into the heart. No more thinking about Portrait mode or Normal mode or other modes, light exposure, and all those umpteen photography things which my husband and son keep discussing about, but just a mind which needs to calm down, and a heart which needs to look inward.

Colorful Murals Inside the German Monastery

Colorful Murals Inside the German Monastery

And we moved on, because a noisy group of tourist arrived and were discussing with the care taker, as to how they could seek permission to take pictures inside the prayer room.

The International Nuns Temple of Nepal

On the right side of the International Nuns Temple, you can see that there is a place of stay for the nuns from Nepal, and is maintained by the Government of Nepal. It has a long courtyard where footwear was not allowed, and as our feet were getting burnt, we were reminded of childhood memories of playing hide and seek with our cousins, during summer break, on the hot terrace at midday. We had to make a hasty retreat this time too, because we could not bear the burning of the hot grounds on our naked feet.

(*If I did not tell you earlier, you are requested to leave your footwear outside most of the monasteries, as a sign of respect and cleanliness.*)

International Nuns Temple in Nepal

International Nuns Temple in Nepal

The Singapore Monastery

This was closed and we could not learn much about it. So we resorted to taking pictures of it and us.

The Author and her son in front of the Singapore Monastery

The Author and her son in front of the Singapore Monastery

The Chinese Monastery

The Chinese have built the biggest monastery in the complex. It is very well maintained and organized with a lot of information displayed. There was so much to assimilate about the culture and history of Buddhism in China and about the monastery itself.

Chinese Monastery

Chinese Monastery

The entrance of the Chinese monastery is guarded by their traditional ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ and other deities. There was even a Maitreya Buddha at the entrance. This is a very beautiful and colorful monastery.

Guardians of the Chinese Monastery

Guardians of the Chinese Monastery

Though the entrance looks not so huge, the courtyard was heavenly. The visitors who entered never felt like leaving. You would also notice that the entry and exit of the monastery is structured such that it makes you circumambulate in clockwise around the Buddha which is a holy practice of Hindus and Buddhists.

Courtyard of the Chinese Monastery

Courtyard of the Chinese Monastery

World Peace Pagoda

We were then directed towards a path by one of the tourists, saying it led to the Eternal Flame, The World Peace Pagoda and the Maya Devi temple. They are all in a straight line.

Inside the Peace Pagoda

Inside The World Peace Pagoda

As you walk on this path, you can find the golden Bodhisattva statue glistening in the sun. It is a fairly recent addition, in 2012. It is supposed to personify that image of the infant Buddha when he took the seven steps on the lotus, as soon as he was born.

Golden Bodhisattva statue

Golden Bodhisattva statue

The Maya Devi Temple

Our walk brought us to the Sacred Zone at the Maya Devi Temple. There was an ambience of tranquility in the atmosphere. But something else was also missing. I couldn’t quite sense what, yet. There is a pond beyond which the temple stands tall and majestic, in white serenity. It felt that the temple was celebrating Buddha’s mother rather than the Buddha.

Maya Devi Temple

Maya Devi Temple

There are rows of small stupas outside the temple. Excavations seemed to be happening continuously since the discovery of the Ashoka pillar in 1896.

Ashoka Pillar

Ashoka Pillar

King Ashoka in the 249 BC is supposed to have originally discovered Buddha’s birth place and built this iconic pillar with detailed inscriptions and the various stupas around it.

Details - The Ashoka Pillar

Details – The Ashoka Pillar

Around the temple building, there are numerous small stupas and they have been archaeologically dated back to the second century BC.

Archaeological Ruins Around the Temple

Archaeological Ruins Around the Temple

We entered the temple, and began walking on the wooden floor, following the signs. People were throwing coins below into the ruins, as offerings for good luck. We stood above and gazed from the railings, there were coins from different countries. As we kept walking, we finally reached the Marker Stone which marks the exact spot where Buddha was born. Devotees were praying, some tourists were gazing intently trying to capture everything in their memory, as you see, photography is prohibited inside the Maya Devi Temple. The path further leads to the Nativity sculpture where you can see mother Maya Devi holding the branch of a Sal tree and Buddha standing on a lotus. As we walked beyond, the path led to the exit of the temple.

The sun was very bright and almost scorching, and glared my eyes, because the temple was very dimly lit, like the insides of a movie theatre. I waited for a moment, for everything to sink in. Everything seemed like nothing.

I noticed the colorful prayer flags in the garden outside. There was a small pond, and a few monks were sitting around a tree, chatting. There were benches for tourists, and some were meditating on it.

I got the feeling that perhaps it was time to leave.

What did I seek in Lumbini?

As we made our way towards the exit, we halted for a drink of water at the watering pool. A few monks were filling up their plastic bottles too, and we waited patiently for them to move. It gave me a moment to reflect.

When we made this journey, all the way from Chennai, South India, what did I anticipate to find? I was allured to Buddha’s birthplace, but I couldn’t find him here. Lumbini is no doubt a very important and holiest of sites for followers of Buddhism and even followers of other religions and I appreciate the beauty of the Lumbini development zone and commend the effort of the Government to preserve this as place of value and heritage.

However, as I fill up my bottle, with the cool water from the tap, I wonder, “What did I get, which I sought from this visit to the birth place of Buddha?”

Did I get enlightenment like Buddha? But did I seek that? I don’t even know what that means…

Did I seek to find Buddha somewhere hidden in the beautiful monasteries constructed by various countries? Or somewhere near the Marker Stone, which claims he was birthed there?

I was not seeking his physical presence – surely not!

Was I seeking to find some meaning to the strong presence he left behind in this world? Perhaps…! But what of it?

Well, whatever I was seeking or not, I surely was trying to find some essence of Divinity in all of this. One could call it peace, or bliss or a meditative calm or any other word… and it all can be identified with something akin to Divine. But I was vaguely disappointed. I felt generally at peace at a superficial level in some of the monasteries, but I still was trying to figure out what I was searching, assuming that I would know once I found it. And here I was experiencing an anti-climax of having found nothing at all.

My water bottle overflowed and I sensed an impatient monk behind me who was being fidgety with his bottle, tapping it against the railing of the water taps. I closed my bottle and allowed him to use it. He smiled his thanks but I did not have the energy to smile back. I was drained by the heat and my own contemplation.

We walked back along the long path leading to one of the exit gates, each of us silent in our hearts and in our own world.

Long after I came home to India, and decided to write about my experience in Lumbini, I felt emotional about not having experienced Buddha’s presence. I just did not feel him or find him anywhere in Lumbini. It felt like ‘time’ had trapped all of Buddha back in the 6th century BC.

It just felt like memories of Buddha lost in time, accentuated by celebrated tales, and an active humanity in the future which tried to relive the enlightenment of a single man (or God) of the past. 

The Ethos of the Heart

As I was wondering about my experience, my friend texted me and offered to have a Heartfulness meditation session, where one meditates on the source of light in the heart. I could not say no. After the session, I felt lighter and peaceful in a general way. Later, I remembered something I read long ago, written by Daaji, the Global Guide of Heartfulness. This seemed to be a fitting climax to my experience.

“Imagine for a moment that we don’t have to go anywhere, or to do anything, except simply sit wherever we are, and allow ourselves to be found? Imagine that heavens are waiting to enter our heart, right here and now! What a powerful concept! How do we make this a reality and allow ourselves to be found? How do we create such a state where the higher presence naturally settles within our hearts?”

He goes on to explain as below …

“The answer possibly lies in cultivating the seeds of contentment within our hearts…

It starts with a simple suggestion that everything we need is already present within us. All the love of the world, the beauty of life, the seed of perfection is present in our heart represented as a source of light. This suggestion is strengthened through actual experience in meditation, as the idea of light leads to a feeling of an inner presence.  This inner presence becomes a reality as our consciousness expands, and we become aware of a wholeness of being. When we begin to experience this state of wholeness and perfection at our core, the clouds of discontent and ignorance start to dissolve. The heart regains its light and innocent nature.

Under such circumstances, the egoless heart, the humble heart, automatically draws the heavens towards itself. Such a heart is perfectly adjusted to its external circumstances.  It creates heaven around itself.”

Full article here. 

I felt light instantly. This seemed to be the missing puzzle to my experience-jigsaw. I had read this article almost 2 years ago, more or less agreed with it, and swiped away to the next article, devouring words and ideas. But the joy of the pudding is not merely in the eating, but in the conscious experiencing of the taste, or the sweet of it. The Universe is so vast, and the world of learning and experiencing is also as broad as the Universe and perhaps even more so. As the human soul tries to imbibe everything or parts of the universe in a quest which is directed external – to new places, new understanding of the senses, and new knowledge, there is something limiting to that, as the façade never fully lifts.

As I try to understand what he meant in the article, I also realize that perhaps humanity is unconsciously seeking an ethos of that content heart, which satisfies itself with everything within, which knows with confidence that indeed the Universe is present within. 

What do you look for, when you visit holy lands? Tell me, your experiences … 

Photo Credit to the Author.

This is the first in the series of articles by #WorldMom, Purnima from her travels in #Nepal.

You can read the series of articles from her travels in #Bhutan here.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here .

She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award .

She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page .

She also contributes to Huffington Post .

Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!
 
This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.  

She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle Plus

WORLD VOICE: #NepalEarthquake – How Can You Contribute?

WORLD VOICE: #NepalEarthquake – How Can You Contribute?

Nepal_Earthquake_2015_05

As an Indian, writing about the #NepalEarthquake today, I have to share a few interesting facts about the Indo-Nepal relationship. An Indian National does not need a VISA to travel to Nepal, and an Indian National does not need even a passport to enter Nepal.

An Indian National only needs some sort of ID card on him to show that he is in an Indian National. And then he is free to come and go.

That is the level of friendship, comradeship, and mutual trust and confidence the countries have on each other. It is just like traveling to another state within India.

location-map-of-earthquake-on-25-april-2015-in-entire-india

location-map-of-earthquake-on-25-april-2015-in-entire-india

It was a great shock to hear about the earthquake on Saturday April 25th. On this date, Nepal was hit by earthquake of a 7.8 magnitude that has killed over 7000 people. The death toll is unfortunately estimated to increase up to 10,000 as rescue efforts span out to remote regions of the epicentre. Nepal has experienced over 50+ aftershocks of 4.5 magnitudes or higher after the initial earthquake.

The injured are in need of desperate medical attention. Countless have lost their homes and are on streets in need of food, water, and medical supplies.

Buildings collapsed in Siliguri, North India

Buildings collapsed in Siliguri, North India

I was traveling in North India when I learned about the #NepalEarthquake. Some parts of Delhi, Lucknow, Bihar (all in India) felt the tremors and aftershocks. At least 60 people were killed in North India and more than 100 injured during this period. I frantically checked for all my friends in North India and Nepal. I even got a call from my friend and fellow World Mom, The Human Rights Warrior, Jennifer Prestholdt to help contact the school in Nepal that her organization works closely with. Major telecom provider #Airtel had made all calls free from India to Nepal. You can read her story about when she finally got the news she was hoping for, and when she read the text message “All our SPCS family r safe,” from Anoop Poudel, headmaster at the Sankhu-Palubari Community School (SPCS) in Nepal.

Aftermath and rubble

Aftermath and rubble

Indian government’s Operation Maitri (meaning friendship) aptly called so, has started helping within 15 minutes of the earthquake.

Organizations like Save the Children, Red Cross, UNICEF, WFP and Care are on the ground with supplies and volunteers. These organizations have teams on the ground and are the most capable in immediate rescue and relief work.

1. Save the Children

Save the Children is an international charity that has been in Nepal since 1976. In fact, when the earthquake hit, there were nearly 500 of their aid workers, mostly Nepalese, on the ground who were already doing work in the area. This was a great help when there were difficulties with the airport at first, according to Carolyn Miles, President and CEO of Save the Children. Also, 10% of funds are going to preparations for future disasters. You can donate to their Nepal Earthquake Children’s Relief Fund.

2. Red Cross

The Red Cross has committed an initial $300,000 of aid as well as 19,000 non-food relief kits. You can donate to the Red Cross Nepal Earthquake Relief Fund.

3. Global Giving

Online fund-raising platform Global Giving is running a project to raise $1,000,000 for disaster relief in Nepal and has raised over $570,000 so far.

To make a donation, visit Global Giving here. If you have a U.S. cell phone, you can text GIVE NEPAL to 80088 to make a $10 donation.

4. Friends Service Council Nepal

FSCN is a Nepalese NGO with over 20 years of experience in supporting disaster relief efforts for disasters in Nepal. If you want to give directly to a local charity, get in contact and a volunteer will explain how best to transfer money to them.

5. Oxfam

Oxfam, which works in more than 90 countries, has already dispatched technical experts from the U.K. to Nepal.

To make your donation to Oxfam’s relief effort, go here.

6. Goonj

Goonj is an Indian relief agency with 11 offices and more than 300 employees. Currently, Goonj is readying two trucks of relief material to transfer to Nepal, with more urgent supplies going by air. For more information about how to donate, visit their website.

Additionally, you could also consider donating at the following links/websites.

Sarvodaya USA: Which is a Madison, WI based non-profit organization. They have done some good work in Nepal and Sri Lanka. They now have volunteers helping in relief work.

UNICEF

World Food Program

Care

Global Outreach Doctors

There are local organizations that are on ground taking care of the survivors and injured. If you wish to make contributions to these organizations, please visit their website below.

Nepal ko Yuwa

And you could contribute too, in other ways, by sending your prayers, thoughts of love, unity and world brotherhood to all of them affected there, the survivors and the long passed souls. Let us pray for some peace.

This is an original post from our World Mom and Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan.

Her contributions to World Moms Blog can be found here. She also rambles at The Alchemist’s Blog.

Photo credit to  Krish Dulal Creative Commons, Deccan Chronicle, Maps of India, European pressphoto Agency.

Article has been written with inputs from author’s friend having close ties with relatives on field in Nepal, Time.com and local Indian TV News channels.

Purnima Ramakrishnan

Purnima Ramakrishnan is an UNCA award winning journalist and the recipient of the fellowship in Journalism by International Reporting Project, John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Her International reports from Brazil are found here .

She is also the recipient of the BlogHer '13 International Activist Scholarship Award .

She is a Senior Editor at World Moms Blog who writes passionately about social and other causes in India. Her parental journey is documented both here at World Moms Blog and also at her personal Blog, The Alchemist's Blog. She can be reached through this page .

She also contributes to Huffington Post .

Purnima was once a tech-savvy gal who lived in the corporate world of sleek vehicles and their electronics. She has a Master's degree in Electronics Engineering, but after working for 6 years as a Design Engineer, she decided to quit it all to become a Stay-At-Home-Mom to be with her son!
 
This smart mom was born and raised in India, and she has moved to live in coastal India with her husband, who is a physician, and her son who is in primary grade school.  

She is a practitioner and trainer of Heartfulness Meditation.

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World Voice: Women on a Mission Retrace Nepal’s Ancient Trade Route to Tibet

World Voice: Women on a Mission Retrace Nepal’s Ancient Trade Route to Tibet

 

View of the Mountains from the Sacred Milarepa Piren Phu Cave

Today our team has returned to the warm embrace of our families in Singapore, but undoubtedly, a piece of our heart was left behind in the sacred Tsum Valley of Nepal, captivated by the thousand smiles we came across during this beautiful and arduous journey. Indeed, Tsum, also known as a beyul or sacred land, had a profound influence on us.

This magical and untouched region of Nepal, one of the most secluded of Himalayan valleys, which only became accessible to tourists in 2008, affected us in ways we don’t yet fully comprehend.

The valley, once part of Tibet, looks completely different in terms of people and culture, from other parts of Nepal. The people of Tsum are Tibetan in origin with their own ancient dialect, art, culture and religion. In addition to the spiritual richness of this expedition, our itinerary was challenging and at times, even a little perilous. It required us to push our physical and mental limits, conquering fears, and dealing with extreme cold and exhaustion, while climbing to increasingly higher altitudes. We gained a total of 4,400 metres of altitude over a distance of 150 kilometres in less than seven days.

Hand-Carved Prayer Stone with Mountains in the Background

We started in Soti Khola, in the lowlands, visiting sacred caves and secluded villages. As we continued to climb higher, we saw the vegetation and landscape change before our eyes, from thick tropical foliage to lush pine forests. We continued our journey on steep mountainous trails, passing brightly coloured prayer wheels and numerous stupas – little Buddhist shrines.  As we gained altitude, the temperatures plummeted, while the landscaped turned moon-like, with a thick blanket of powdery snow covering the peaks surrounding us.

Every day on our journey upwards, we came across caravans of mules and Yaks laden with supplies on their way to and fro Tibet. The people in this region of Nepal have been trading with their Tibetan neighbours for centuries and continue to do so despite the political vagaries affecting Tibet’s status as a nation in relation to the People’s Republic of China.

After an intense week of trekking we reached Mu Gompa (3,700m), where we began a three-day retreat in a century-old monastery. There, we set aside quiet moments in our day for meditation and reflection, as we rested and prepared for our challenging day climb to the Ngula Dhojhyang Pass, perched on the Nepalese-Tibetan border at 5,093m of altitude.

Finally the time came for us to scale the Ngula Dhojhyang Pass. However, because Mu Gompa Monastery is the last place available for trekkers to stay at, past this altitude, if we were to return before dusk, we had to leave no later than 4:30am. An intense 13 to 14-hour climb lay ahead of us.

Luckily the weather had been glorious over the past few days.  We were conscious that just a few weeks back, not far from this region, in the Annapurna mountain range, a freak blizzard had just occurred. This unexpected storm arriving in late October, at the peak of the trekking season, had caused the deadliest mountaineering disaster in Nepal’s history. At least 43 people were killed when the blizzard caught them off guard on the trails.

A few other obstacles lay ahead of us on this high pass attempt. For the team to reach that section of the Tibetan border, we had to cross six landslides in total darkness and once again on the way back, ideally while there was still some daylight left.

Nevertheless, our determined team left Mu Gompa Monastery with head torches on at 4:30am in below freezing temperatures. The cold was so intense that the water in our camelbaks remained frozen until 9am. We continued climbing, crossing vast windy plains, traversing numerous icy rivers, scrambling over slippery rocks and small glaciers, and scaling a total of 1,400 metres in one go. Finally at noon, exhausted and cold, but euphoric beyond words, we made it to the Nepalese/Tibetan border at the highest point on the ancient trade route. Unfurling our Banner at the  Ngula Dhojhyang Pass

At the top we unfurled a banner reaffirming our commitment to challenge ourselves and empower women around the world.

We stayed 20 minutes on the windy summit, drinking in the stunning views on both sides, and headed straight back down to Mu Gompa, racing to return before dark. Finally 13 hours after our departure, as daylight began to fade, we walked into the monastery’s dining hall completely shattered and drained, but standing tall despite the overwhelming fatigue, with a deep sense of achievement and pride in our hearts.

The Team Meeting with a Mother's Group in Philim

As you can imagine on such a journey, there was much laughter and often tears, of both triumph and frustration, but what we discovered at the end of it all was something far more rewarding. We came to know a people who cherish the simplicity of their lives over any material comfort or possessions. On numerous occasions along the trail, the people of Tsum welcomed us, perfect strangers, into their homes. Their hospitality, kindness and wisdom touched our hearts forever.

Ultimately, we embarked on this journey to support other mothers, daughters, and sisters whose lives have been ripped apart by the horrors of war, women who have been humiliated and raped, robbed of their dignity, whose self-esteem and freedom have been taken away from them. Even if we could never claim to truly understand the suffering they went through, doing something out of the ordinary and dedicating it to these brave women made us feel like we were standing in solidarity with them, and it gave us wings as we climbed higher.

Despite the constant longing for clean toilets, hot running water, warm beds and comfort foods—not the mention the rats we encountered running across our sleeping bags, in the middle of the night in one of the lodges —all the little “hardships” we endured were long forgotten once we were safely back home in Singapore.

It was truly an unforgettable journey in the land of the clouds. From the many multi-coloured prayer flags fluttering in the wind high above our paths, to the beautiful khata – silk scarves – we received as parting gifts, undoubtedly, the beauty of the Tsum Valley will remain alive, etched in our memories forever. No wonder many believe the Himalayas retain a small part of your soul, forever captured and resting peacefully awaiting your return.

Christine Amour-Levar is the Founding Partner of Women on a Mission (WOAM), a non-profit organization that combines challenging, self-funded, expeditions to remote and majestic locations around the world, with inspirational fundraising events, as a means to raise awareness and funds for women victims of violence.

For more information, please visit www.womenmission.com

Or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/WOAMSingapore

This is an original guest post written for World Moms Blog by Christine Amour-Levar.

All photos provided for this post by by Christine Amour-Levar.

Have you ever challenged yourself in such a way as a tribute to others suffering? We’d love to hear your stories! 

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children.

World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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SOCIAL GOOD: Breathing into Relationships

SOCIAL GOOD: Breathing into Relationships

Breathe RockBreathing into Relationship:

The Dance Between Diversity and Unity 

The highest form of intimacy is love that does not annihilate difference. Evelyn Keller

I recently had dinner with some new friends from Nepal, a husband and wife and two younger children. My husband and I and our two children showed up to the apartment where chicken wings were frying, dal was bubbling in a silver pot and fried pakora was placed neatly on a plate.

As we sipped warm spicy chai tea, we talked in short sentences, learning to understand each other. I heard stories of loneliness and isolation in a new land, adventures to the mountains and the sand dunes of southern Colorado, and stories of the gods Sita and Ram from the Hindu tradition.We took pictures together and laughed and ran around the small apartment, playing hide and seek with a pink Nepali scarf tied around our heads.

Ajita, the Nepali woman, spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking, remaining very quiet and eating by herself in the living room. I felt discomfort arise at what seemed to be a cultural tradition, the woman preparing and serving the food but not participating in eating the meal.

When we sat down to eat, we were served with solid copper plates that are used only for “special guests.” We were asked if we wanted forks or if we wanted to eat with our hands and we all opted for the latter. Giri taught us how to eat properly with our hands as we tried to master this surprisingly difficult task.

He said to us, “I have tried to eat with a fork here, but I just do not feel nourished when I do.” After a delicious meal and nourishing fellowship, we left bowing saying namaste to one another. Giri said, “You are like family to us.”

On the way home, my family and I had a conversation about difference. My children shared how great it was to eat with their hands and asked if they could do that all of the time. We talked about the children’s names and how they were different from any names they had ever heard. We then talked about cultural differences that felt uncomfortable, like Ajita not eating with us or speaking very much. (more…)

World Moms Blog

World Moms Blog is an award winning website which writes from over 30 countries on the topics of motherhood, culture, human rights and social good. Over 70 international contributors share their stories from around the globe, bonded by the common thread of motherhood and wanting a better world for their children.

World Moms Blog was listed by Forbes Woman as one of the "Best 100 Websites for Women 2012 & 2013" and also called a "must read" by the NY Times Motherlode in 2013. Our Senior Editor in India, Purnima Ramakrishnan, was awarded the BlogHer International Activist Award in 2013.

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