Friday, May 8, 2015


Not with a bang, but with... FOOD POISONING!

Yep, my last meal in India slammed me good. By the time I got to the airport at 1 AM I could barely stand. I was shaking. I felt nauseous. I was short of breath. Both arms starting tingling and feeling numb. People looked at me in line to check in for the flight and asked "Are you alright?"

"No. Not good. Not good at all. I ate something bad."
"Bad food in India? No way." one guy said.

I finally got my bag checked and puked in the bathroom... and then I was mostly okay. When I got on the plane they had a doctor come give me some anti-nausea medicine and ginger ale and by the time I reached Abu Dhabi and got on the 16 hour flight back to LA I felt fine. Whew. India had to have one last laugh I guess!

After my 2 day OSHO adventure I was ready to be back on the road. In the "real India". So I left my hotel at 10am and took a tuk-tuk to the the train station. I was determined to take a Second class / Non-reserved train ride while I was here. And this was my last chance. The plane leaves at 4am tonight. Immediately after driving away from OSHO I felt India flood back in. Crazy traffic, honking horns, dust, dirt, trash. Ahhh, India! Good to see you again!  I bought my Un-reserved ticket, and was the only non-Indian within sight. Everyone stared at me. (But what's new, it's India!). And after some very confusing directions about how I would actually get to my destination, I was standing on the platform in the 102 degree heat watching the train roll in.

Now, unreserved is that class of train travel where as many people as possible squeeze into a train car. There's no assigned seats and no limit to the number of people. It's the train car you have seen in pictures where people ride on the roof because there's no space inside and it's hot as hell. As the train came to a stop people would run next to the car, grab the handle and jump on. Shoving each other out of the way. I had my trusty rolling bag and joined the fray. The first guy shoved me out of the way, but I pushed another guy back, grabbed the handle and lept aboard.

The irony is the train actually stops after this. But people push in to grab seats, climb up and sit on the luggage racks, or whatever they can do. I just stayed in the entry corridor because it has a cross breeze and was there the whole trip. This was good except for the two stations we stopped out where everyone had to file my direction of the train to get on and off.

The first half of the 4 hour trip was nice. A good breeze. Not too hot as we went over mountains (surprising to me) on our way from Pune to Mumbai. It's 120 km and hazy, smokey and dusty the whole way. I actually think almost all of India (except Kerala) seems to be hazy, smokey and dusty. I was told it was due to pollution, or fires or dust or...

The second half of the trip was hot hot hot as we descended into Mumbai:  aka Trash city. I'm not kidding you, I've never seen so much trash piled along the sides of the railroad tracks, next to the shanties, along the rivers, IN the rivers. Like islands of stinky garbage. It was pretty intense. (As was the smell. Especially at night, driving to the airport, there was 10 minutes of the drive that was like going through rot. It was awful. And I was feeling nauseous already. So.... whew).

Once we got past the outskirts the trash let up a little bit, and once we got to the center there was very little trash (well, no more than normal here). Getting into town required hopping off this train and being led by a nice India gal who had been on my train. She took me past the absolutely obnoxious cab drivers who would not go away and wanted Rs1,000 to take me to downtown. She took me to the local train which cost: Rs10. Yep. So I piled into a car that was jam packed like a mosh pit and rode another 25 minutes to Victoria Terminus. If you've seen "Slumdog Millionaire" you've seen this place. (Jai ho!). On the ride people would just stare at me. I mean STARE. I'd smile or nod and a few would do the same, but some never stopped staring. I know, a non-Indian on a local train. Crazy!

On my un-reserved ride I talked to a number of people. Everyone was confused about me being there. One guy couldn't believe I'd traveled all over India for a month. "It's so dangerous". I was also made fun of by these three men/women who wanted money simple because they were neither a man nor a woman. (This was never explained well, but I think they were hermaphrodites.) Some people gave them money. The one just stood a foot away from me on the crowded train and made fun of me. I knew she was because people were laughing as she kept trying to get money from me. Kept poking my arm and saying things. I didn't pay her. (I didn't pay hardly anyone who begged while I was in India.) It was very uncomfortable to be trapped in a moving train car with someone making fun of me and also being a bit threatening. (It occured to me that would be a great place for a horror scene to take place. There's no way out. Thank god the zombie apocalypse didn't hit right then!)

Mumbai was fun, but I was tired and it was hot. I unkowingly ate the doomed dinner and then said. "Well, it's my last night in India. What should I do?" And did what anyone would... I went to the movies!

I saw "GABBAR IS BACK" an Indian action film in Hindi with no subtitles. It was fabulously fun, and I was actually able to follow most of what was going on. Occasionally a line would be in English which helped. I talked with a local teen about the film and Indian movies during the intermission. (Yep, they have an intermission). Gabbar is an antihero fighting corruption and kicking ass. And in India there is a lot of corruption. It's strange how everyone knows about it but it's just accepted openly. Of course Gabbar is fighting the cause with martial arts and wit and charm. The audience would cheer and holler. And when the musical numbers started... (yep!)... I laughed out loud. I can only imagine a musical number busting out in the middle of FURIOUS 7 or DIE HARD. It would be amazing.

After that the sick started and I headed to the airport and the rest is history. (I actually sat next to a really cool Indian gal on the 16 hour flight and we talked a lot. It was fun to have one final perspective on India).

Which brings me to the end of this grand journey. It was fabulous. It was challenging. It was crazy. It was amazing. And here are some final thoughts which may or may not have been mentioned before in no particular order about this faraway land...(12 1/2 hour time difference from LA). Man the jet-lag is fierce!

I.N.D.I.A. --
Some joke that it stands for:  I'd never do it again.
I've yet to return to any foreign country which I have visited. But there isn't any that I would blacklist. India isn't easy, but that doesn't mean it's not worth going. In fact, quite the opposite.

If you have a question and you ask more than one person, you will get different answers from everyone. I'm not kidding. You need directions: 5 answers. You need to know the price of things: 5 answers.  The second class train journey above, I got SEVEN completely different directions on how to get to my final destination. Somehow you have to sort it out and trust your gut. You might end up where you want to be, you might not.

I was led to believe that English is spoken everywhere in India. And it is... sort of. But truthfully, most people only speak a little English. And if they do their vocabulary is usually limited to the particular profession which they work. This is a lot like Thailand, where the tourist circles can speak of that but nothing else. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with this. A country should speak the language they do. They don't have to speak English to make it easy for tourists. Indian's also have a tendency to jump to conclusions when you're talking to them. This sounds like a gross stereotype, but the number of times I wouldn't even get my question out before a conclusion was given was amazing. And the amount of times I had to repeat myself to the same person bordered on the absurd sometimes. But as with all of India, keep your cool and just keep trying. Eventually you'll be able to communicate.... usually.

I'm sure it's evident from all these emails, but the culture shock in India is significant. In fact, of the 37 countries I've been to, it is by far the most "foreign". The most unusual from where I live in the USA.  (And I live in California! Which is already weird! Lol). The list of differences is so long I could fill a book with them. The one that keeps popping out is how people will just stare at you... from 3 - 5 feet away. Just stand right in front of you and stare. Nothing weird about that.  The notion of personal space is just different. People are always on top of each other.

I was asked for money so many times per day it was an automatic response to just say "No" and walk away. Occasionally people would grab my shirt or pants and I would say "NO." and Hold up my hand, waving them away. It sounds disrespectful, but that's how it's done. I was asked by people who were dressed the same as anyone else, and I was asked by people whose lives must be so hard, that it was very difficult for me not to give anything. There were kids who just begged. And then there were kids who pretended to be crippled by crawling around the train station. (Trust me, they weren't). And then there were the people who really were. Broken legs. Mishappen feet or arms. Missing limbs. And the saddest one of all: at the Delhi station a woman was totally scarred. Her face burned, an eye missing. Her arms and neck stretched and scarred. (It especially makes  me sad because in some villages if a girl refuses the advances of a man, he and his friends might throw acid on her so that no one else will want her. I think this might have happened to this woman and it broke my heart).

Look, just because your train leaves on time doesn't mean it will reach its destination on time. In fact, it's a guarantee it will not. Flights, cars. Only movies started on time: I guess that's true everywhere. (Except the one they just didn't run because the only audience was me and I arrived just as it was supposed to start.) It's called INDIA TIME, and it's best to go with the flow. Your 4 hour train will take 7. The office will open at noon (or maybe it's 12:15). The temple closes at 10 (today it's 10:20). Go with the flow and it'll all be good.

I don't know what the rules of the road are in India. But I can tell you they are terrifying. At first. (And they continued to be for the most part). But I think the lack of rules makes everyone pay more attention. No one is texting while driving there, I can guarantee you that. Perhaps we should pay more attention and not expect everyone to follow the rules and do what we want them too. Everyone is on their own path anyway.

From the USA anyway. Which, I'd like to point out, doesn't necessarily make them wrong. Just different. And it's not up to India to make it easy for travelers. India will do what India will do.

Yes, it's true. Cows are holy. In in most of the places I went cows and bulls could wander where they want, sit where they want and shit where they want. It's a strange experience to come around the corner in a narrow, twisty alley and come face to face with a 2,000 pound bull which almost blocks the entire lane. I stopped. It looked at me with indifference as it chewed the food left for it. I slipped between it and the wall, stepped over it's droppings and was on my way.

WIth all the people, all the festivals, all the food, the music, the traffic, the activity, the whole place is moving. And it's in your face. India is not for the timid. It will push you and challenge you. It did me. This was one of the most baffling places I've ever been. But it's awesome too. Unusual, unique, strange and fabulous. India is like no place I've been and if you really want to be someplace different... go to India.

Well, as I mentioned in the last email. I didn't find it to be more "spiritual" than other places I've been. Yeah, there are a thousand festival and a million gods and a gazillion temples, but that doesn't make it more "spiritual", that just means it has a complex religious structure that is different from most places in the world. Thus some might call it more "spiritual". And if it is to you, that's awesome. We all find the power of something "more" from different things, and maybe you'll find it here.

At a train station on the way to Shimla, painted in the tile, was this:
"The Allah of Islam is the same
As the God of Christians
And the Iswar of Hindus".
In Kerala, in the south, all religions live harmoniously together. They have for centuries. There is no fighting.
In Mumbai there are occasional riots where Hindu's beat Muslim's to death with clubs.
There are dozens of religions throughout India. Maybe even hundreds.
Some people get what religion is. Some people don't. It's just like anywhere in that reguard.

Yes, It's that crowded. Yes there is a crush of people here that I've rarely seen. There are cities on mountains, and traffic jams that make LA look like it's the countryside. But you can find isolation if you want. On a ghat late at night. On a mountain top in the Himalaya. Even in fields along train tracks (but watch out for the people taking dumps nearby).

The whole place is fabulous and frustrating, beautiful and ugly, mesmerizing and baffling, filthy and pristine. It's a land of contradictions and a land that is so complex that a single trip would never be enough to understand it. I don't pretend to. Which brings up something Anna said in Varanasi. I paraphrase, but she asked: why does it matter to understand something? Does it have to make logical sense? Maybe it's just about being there, in the moment, and feeling it. Not understanding it. But FEELING it. If you try to make sense of it, it's just going to drive you crazy.

So in the end I think that's the only thing you can do with India.
Feel it.
The good. The bad. The ugly. The beautiful.
FEEL it.
After all, it's India!

This is Craig Ouellette,
last surviving crew member of the Nostromo
Signing off.

Monday, May 4, 2015


So I'm sitting in a giant pyramid. The room is tiled in black marble. New Agey music pulses from the speakers. And 200 people all dressed in plain white robes are dancing and gyrating and freely spinning around and around.

Welcome to the OSHO (tm) International Mediation Resort.

The Music stops and everyone yells "OSHO!"... and the music kicks on again. It's a zippy tune and is a hell of a lot of fun to dance to. After a few more stops with "OSHO!" cries, the music finally ends with four "OSHO's!" and everything falls silent. Everyone sits down and is silent. I'm following along, because there's no instruction. Sure they gave you a booklet when you arrived (along with a massive amount of rules and instruction on how to behave at this ashram located in Pune, India). I read the booklet. I don't remember the order of things, so I'm just following along as best I can. And supposedly the word "OSHO" doesn't mean anything. It's just something to yell. But it is the name that the guru here chose, so I'm not so sure about it meaning nothing at all...

After a few minutes, or maybe it's 10, of silence. A video starts up and Mr. Osho himself comes on a 10 foot video screen at the front of the "OSHO dome" (As I like to call it). He then proceeds to impart wisdom on his loyal followers. And he speaks realllllllyyyyy sloooooooooooooowwwwwwwwlllllllyyyyyy.  I mean, I'm not sure I've ever listened to 45 minutes to an hour of speaking that was quite this slow. To be fair, what he had to say was kind of interesting. It had to do with being an artist vs. being a seeker. Things that apply to my life. But man it took him a long time to get to the point. The video was recorded sometime in the late 80's or early 90's, so no HD here. (Osho died in the early 90's).

After the "sermon" (For lack of a better term) the video goes black, but OSHO continues to speak. And after a minute hits the punchline on a dirty joke. The place erupts in laughter. And follows this with another off color joke about cannibals. I ain't going to lie, they were both fabulously funny and so out of character for the very mellow man who gave the speech. Or so I thought... it turns out Osho would use dirty jokes in his speechmaking as he got older. I guess he figured laughter was good for the spirit as well.

The jokes end and BOOM, a huge drumbeat and everyone in the room starts speaking gibberish. Yep. It was like being in a room full of people speaking tongues. A few people spoke English, yelling curse words out and frustrated frantic speech, but most people were rambling in other languages (which they might not even know). I'm serious. People were speaking all sorts of weird things, and knowing the language is not a requirement. This is called "The Gibberish". For me, I don't know how to speak in a language I don't know. So I just sort of mumbled and listened as the sounds echoed around the empty pyramid until...

BOOM.  Another drumbeat. And everyone fell silent. Osho came back on the audio to lead a little meditation and after 2 minutes....

BOOM... everyone flops to the ground like "a bag of rice" (to use the OSHO term.) I just laid back and closed my eyes. Then OSHO guides you through a brief meditation. Maybe 5 minutes... or was it 10? Until on the recording he asks his band leader to start up a tune. She replies with a very mellow "yes OSHO"...

And the music kicks back on. People get up and start dancing again. The energy is different from the start, but still free. It lasts 5 minutes or so until the final "OSHO!" and then it's over. People walk out in silence into the night. Ghosts in white robes drifting down the steps from the Illuminati pyramid that is the OSHO (tm) Dome and out into the campus. The moon was bright. The dome is lit deep blue and frankly looks like a 1980's movie visual effect from the outside.

At this point you're probably thinking:  "Craig, did you just join a cult?"

But in truth, Meditation retreats and ashram's exist all over India. Each is led by their own Guru who has his (or occasionally her) own version of the path to enlightenment, or peace, or truth, or healing. They all serve a different purpose and a different path. Some are very Zen, some are unique like OSHO. He teaches an "Active meditation" which has to do with doing something physical before dropping into the quiet meditative state.  The "Brotherhood of the white robe" that I went to above happens every night, and it is the only time you wear the white robe. During the daytime meditation sessions you must wear a maroon robe. So everyone walks around in Maroon robes all day and white robes at night. It could seem creepy, but it's actually kind of nice and has a pleasant visual aspect to it.

Now, the thing about OSHO is that, even though it's about finding enlightenment or transcendence through active meditation. It's also a giant, shameless money making machine. And this was hard to stomach when I first got there. I knew it was going to be pricey, but this was hands down the most expensive thing I did while in India. I ended up there for two days and spent over... $100. Yes, I realize that is very little when you think about how much things cost in LA (Hell, you could blow that on one dinner easily). But in India, where my average daily cost was $42. (That includes food, lodging, transportation, activities and everything), spending $100 on something is way out of balance. And when I mentioned that (with a smile) to the man checking me in, he said "This isn't an Indian company." (Interesting since OSHO was very much an Indian).

When you arrive you have to have a registration fee of 1,400 Rupees. The registration takes 10 minutes and they do a manditory AIDS/HIV test. I asked why and was told that in the 1980's OSHO realized HIV was going to be an incurable epidemic and wanted to make sure his commune was safe. I didn't ask how they treated someone who was HIV+. Back in the 1970's-1980's OSHO was controversial for his including sex as part of his teachings. It earned him the dergitory title of "Sex Guru". Frankly, I didn't see or hear any mention of sex while I was there in the teachings (other than the dirty jokes). I could've bought the book of his talks on the subject in the OSHO bookstore if I'd wanted to. But I'd used up all my "OSHO Bucks" and didn't want to get anymore. (You have to buy vouchers to spend inside the resort. This is so you don't have to worry about cash. Of course you have to worry about these cards they mark up with markers and then throw away. So I'm not sure it's any better. But as anyone who has worked a county fair knows: If you have vouchers or tickets people spend more money.) The people checking you in smile and say "Now it's time to break out your ATM Card". It's pretty shameless. You want to use the pool: Pay extra. Oh, but you have to use wear a maroon swimsuit so you fit in. Conveniently purchasable in the boutique with OSHO bucks.

In the end, it really isn't that much money. But in a country where many people live on US $2 a day, a place that costs this much, and gives nothing back to the poor ("that is someone elses job") really bothered me. People travel here to take courses, and they spend a lot of money. I met people there for 3 weeks, 3 months or even longer. Some never even saw any other part of India while they were there. They even stayed on campus for about $70/night. It really is like going to a resort in Mexico and never seeing any of the local people, villages or events. It's not how I usually like to travel and took some shifting. I felt like I was cheating. It was too easy. Too clean. Too quiet. This wasn't India...

... and yet it was. Because so many people come to India seeking truth. Seeking peace. Seeking something to calm them, to straighten them out, to get them on track. People need guidance in life. Some find it in religion (Christianity, Hindu, Islam to name a few), some find it in work or public service,  and for some OSHO is the man to give it. His words were actually pretty wise. His idea of active or dynamic meditation is pretty fabulous. It's hard for me to just stop and say "Now I shall sit quietly and meditate for one hour. Shhhhhhh. Ommmmmm.".  But after running in place for 15 minutes, swaying like a reed of grass for 15 minutes, moving my eyes in a circle for 15 minutes... by the time I got to the 15 minute stage of laying and just being... I was calm and felt great.  Each of his meditations has 3 or 4 steps and lasts an hour. The active part of the mediations vary, but the final step is always just laying on your stomach or back with eyes closed and just being. And you know what? It works pretty great.

But after all that, here's something I learned from my month in India...

India isn't any more spiritual or special than any other place else on earth. India doesn't have some magical energy that vibrates through the people and places that makes you calm or gives you peace or makes you holy or brings you closer to God. An ashram in India might be spiritual to one person, a beach at sunset might be to another, or a mountaintop in Colorado might be to another. This whole world is filled with amazing, spiritual, divine places that can take our breath away, inspire our passions, or give us peace.

And in the end it actually doesn't require going anywhere to do it. (Though often times breaking out of our routines and habits and comfort zones is necessary to find it). Peace comes from within. People who sell peace are businessmen. It doesn't cost you money to find it (but if you need to spend money to find a teacher, there's nothing wrong wit that). It only requires you loving yourself and loving this wonderful life we are given. Even when things are bad, smile: tomorrow could be worse. (I saw that sign in Mumbai).

Did I need to go to India to learn this lesson? Maybe. Maybe not.

But the answer didn't come from India. It came from within.