Visa run: from India to Nepal and back again

Photo of re-entry stamp into India at Banbasa, India, from our visa runEvery long-term India traveler hits the wall eventually: the expiration date on your current visa. Some travelers simply choose to travel in other countries. Neighboring Sri Lanka and Nepal are interesting places in themselves, and of course Southeast Asia is another popular region. But for people who want to stay in India continuously to work on yoga, study meditation, volunteer or simply hang out in a place that’s meaningful to them  – the visa run is a natural solution.

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Haridwar: a walk to Kankhal and the Ma Anandamayi ashram

Some interesting old buildings we spotted in Kankhal during our walk to Ma Anandamayi's  ashram in Kankhal, a suburb of Haridwar.
We spotted some interesting old buildings in Kankhal during our walk to Ma Anandamayi’s ashram.

Today was the third of a six-day visit to Haridwar, a break from Hindi classes and the rains of Mussoorie. We decided to have a morning walk to the Ma Anandamayi Ashram in Khankal, just over four kilometers from our hotel.

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House building in Kumaon

Photo of neighbor's house with new addition in progress and cow, Papershali, Almora, Kumaon, Uttarakhand
The cow doesn’t care.

We live on a mountainside (or hillside, if you like) that slopes steeply down to a river valley. The village we’re staying in is small enough that we can see every house in it. So when we first noticed that one of the nearby houses had some rebar sticking up out of the rooftop, we figured the owner planned to add on someday. It wasn’t until we saw a line of thin, wiry men walking down the hill with loads of bricks suspended from their foreheads that we realized “someday” was “right now.”

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Kasar Devi Mandir: the peak of Almora

Kasar Devi Mandir, Kasar Devi, Almora, Uttarakhand
Kasar Devi temple at Kasar Devi Mandir. The boulder on the right shelters the cave where Vivekananda meditated.

Kasar Devi Mandir is one of the most popular temples to visit in the Almora area, and indeed in Uttarakhand. We’re lucky that we have been living just three kilometers from the temple for the past few weeks. But even before we moved to Papershali, we walked the seven kilometers of uphill road from Almora to Kasar Devi a few times, drawn by the beauty of its setting and the peaceful shakti of the place.

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How we travel (including Delhi to Almora)

Passengers on a bus to Hubli, Karnataka
On the bus to Hubli, Karnataka

India is a big country, and getting from one place to another can be complicated. It can also be really fun. Some of my most memorable experiences in India have happened on trains and buses.

Tourists and travelers here are constantly exchanging information about how to get from one place to another, where to book tickets and how much you should pay for a taxi ride. Recently, some friends who are thinking of coming to India have been asking about how we travel. So I figured it was time to write something about our travel style, and offer a few tips.

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Mushrooms of Kumaon

Yellow mushroom between Paparshali and Chitai, Almora, Uttarakhand
No. 1 – Found in pine woods between Paparshali and Chitai Devta Golu Mandir.

The monsoon seemed to begin in earnest about 10 days ago, with heavy rains occurring every day for at least a couple of hours. The rains have greened up the forests, and brought forth many lovely wildflowers. I love the flowers, but I enjoy the mushrooms and fungi even more.

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In the presence of Ma Anandamayi, and a meditation on meditation

Anandamayi Ashram, Patal Devi, Almora, Uttarakhand
Ma Anandamayi ashram during the monsoon.

Alan first pointed out the Anandamayi ashram to me one day when we were walking down the Binsar road from Kasar Devi Mandir. I saw a group of orange-red buildings tucked into the hillside below Chota Bazaar (or NTD, as it’s more properly known), with a very old stone temple just below the ashram complex. It looked intriguing, so we decided to visit in the next day or two.

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A hidden valley, a sky temple and a natural lingam-yoni

A typical lingam and yoni arrangement for worship of Shiva
Lingam and yoni in a temple, with lingam-like rocks found in nature arrayed on the shelf behind.

Over the years I’ve seen many examples of Indian religious symbols that occur in nature – things like the coco-de-mer, or rocks that resemble a Shiva lingam arranged in a temple and anointed with vermilion, just like formal sculptures of gods.

But up to now, I’d only seen these things in photographs, or displayed in a temple or museum. So it was special to discover for ourselves, a few days ago, a symbol of Shiva-Shakti in a mountain stream.

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