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Madurai

Madurai is one of the oldest living cities of the world. The center and the reason for the city is the complex of the Sri Meenakshi Temple. The immense and colourful Entrance doors (Gopurams) are visible even before you reach the city. To get to the temple is an experience in itself. Since the city was build in a rectangular pattern around the temple long time ago, the streets are narrow and full of people, cars and other means of transport. Its a real challenge for the driver to negotiate his car trough these alleys and lanes. Once you are there, the complex just seems to spread without end in each direction. Once you have passed the main gate you realise that there is another wall within, protecting shrines and ponds. You enter into a city, vibrant with pilgrims, here to ask for favours, fix marriages, hold ceremonies and simply come to devote some time to their inner healing. There are halls with shrines, dedicated to the planets. There are temples for Ganesha, the bringer of luck and two main shrines, one for the goddess Meenakshi and one to Shiva her consort. Their duality represents the static principle (Shiva) and the emotional or dynamic manifestation (Parvati). This duality or inseparability is repeated in Hinduism again and again, signifying each time the manifestation of a different aspect of life and the universe. There is always just not enough time inside Meenakshi, there is so much to see, learn and simply witness. Besides the wonderful temple, make sure to pass by at the Tirumal Nayak Palace, a Palace full of influence of different European cultural periods.

Thanjavur

People call it the “big temple” and the talk is of the probably grandest structure in South India, the Brihadeshwara Temple at Thanjavur. The top of the temple is adorned by a 70 ton rock and till date the speculation is on, on how this giant rock was brought up there more than 1000 years ago. The tenple is not s colorful as many other and that makes him sort of a change. Is the size that impresses and its simplicity. The temple feels like an oasis, just a wonderful place to see.

If you are in Thanjavur you have to make sure to visit one of the famous Veena makers. The Sarasvati, or Rudra Veena is a South Indian classical instrument that hasn’t changed much since the times of the vedas, almost 3000 years ago. Its a string instrument made from the wood of the jack fruit tree and it takes a craftsman several weeks to create one instrument. To visit these craftsmen is like visiting a museum, where literally thousands of years greet you in a still active environment.

Chidambaram

Chidambaram might be considered by many just a stop over on the way to central Tamil Nadu. Yet just passing by would be a pity, because to the locals this is one of the most important places in the land. The Shiva temple in the town center is considered to be the magnetic equator of the world. The place is sacred to Hindus, because it is here, where the energy streams criss crossing the globe form a knot. And it is here that Shiva danced his Tandava, the dance of destruction and creation. It is from here that the dancing image of Shiva in the form of Nataraja was formed, multiple arms, surrounded by flames and balancing himself dancing on the body of a demon. It is said, that if you conquer your ego (the demon, destruction) the universe will open up and grant you all its secrets (ring of flames, creation). To Hindus this place is therefore holy as it is said to grant passage from our limited intellect into the knowledge and wisdom of the universe, known as Moksha. The temple is open to all visitors and allows us to witness the rituals at the main shrine.

Behind the mighty Himalayas

Mustang – where pilgrims meet

There are places on this planet no word can describe and no picture can capture their grandeur. To me, Mustang behind the mighty mountains of the Annapurna and Dhaulagiri range is such a place. The barren landscape looks like it has been painted in vast array of different shades of reds, blues, browns and greens. The structures of the hills, valleys and mountains tell the story of the continental drift that created the highest range on earth – the Himalayas.

The monsoon rains that lash each year the southern face of the mountains are blocked by the Earth’s highest peaks that rise here high above the clouds. Rainfall is rare and the green, oasis like patches are fed by glistening white glaciers and eternal snow covering the peaks above 6000 Meters.

Its a harsh world for man and beast. Before tourism provided new opportunities, the people lived a semi nomadic life by growing crops like buckwheat and potatoes along the glacial streams and by rearing Yak on high altitude meadows.

For visitors however it is an enchanting place. Stark blue skies, glistening white peaks and green patches of cultivated land greet the visitors. Colorful prayer flags on roofs, Gompas and hillocks play in the wind. The air is pristine and clear and the colors seem to be of an almost surreal intensity.

People here are gentle and seem to be devoid of stress and the constant nervous behavior we are used to from our stressed out folks back home. Life is slower and in tune with the seasons that still rule man and beast.

Visitors and trekkers come here to walk on ancient trade routes with Tibet and to see the former hidden Kingdom of Lo Manthang. Then there is the world famous route around the mighty massive of the Annapurna Himal, crossing the Thorong La at 5400 Meters.

At the foot of the pass trekkers pass trough one of the most sacred pilgrim places in the  Himalayas – Muktinath. The small shrine build here long ago is dedicated to Lord Shiva, who carries the Trishul (Trident) and is worshipped as the Lord of the three worlds, also known as the past, the future and the present. The pilgrims to this place are traditionally asking for Moksha (Mukti) or the liberation of the soul from rebirths. They are asking for Yoga or the union of their soul with the divine.

Foreign travelers are likely to meet pilgrims that have been walking for month to reach the temple. Many of them have done their duties as spouses, fathers, mothers and contributors to society and their last act in life is towards their soul and liberation from rebirth.

DSCF5717 - Version 2On our journey we met three men who walked barefoot all the way from central India, unfazed by weather, sleeping outdoor and painful feet. Their eyes were serene and calm and happily they chatted and told us about their journey, not even surprised that as a foreigner I was able to converse in their language.

Since long, I am convinced that travelers choose destinations like Mustang, Muktinath, Varanasi and other places in India and Nepal trough their unconscious and the seeking of their souls. Traveling here, no matter how luxurious or adventurous we choose to do so, becomes often without our conscious knowing a pilgrimage towards our inner self.

Note: the area of Mustang has not been affected by the Earthquake in April 2015

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Evening prayer

Om. I am neither the mind,
Intelligence, ego, nor ’chitta’,
Neither the ears, nor the tongue,
Nor the senses of smell and sight,
Neither ether, nor air,
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I am neither the ’prana’,

Nor the five vital breaths,
Neither the seven elements of the body,
Nor its five sheaths,
Nor hands, nor feet,
Nor other organs of action.
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Neither fear, greed, nor delusion,
Loathing, nor liking have I,
Nothing of pride, of ego,
Of ’dharma’ or Liberation,
Neither desire of the mind,
Nor object for its desiring.
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Nothing of pleasure and pain,
Of virtue and vice, do I know,
Of mantra, of sacred place,
Of Vedas or Sacrifice,
Neither I am the eater,
The food or the act of eating,
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

Death or fear, I have none,
Nor any distinction of ’caste’,
Neither Father, nor Mother,
Nor even a birth, have I,
Neither friend, nor comrade,
Neither disciple, nor Guru.
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva!

I have no form or fancy,
the All-pervading am I,
Everywhere I exist,
And yet I am beyond the senses,
Neither salvation am I,
Nor anything to be known.
I am Eternal Bliss and Awareness.
I am Shiva! I am Shiva! 

a beautiful poem from Adi Shankaracharya

Living on a prayer

Living on a prayer

Inside the great Menakshi Temple in Madurai

Temple offerings, Madurai, India

Temple offerings, Madurai, India