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Jodhpur, the blue city in Rajasthan

Many a traveler on the tourist trail leading from the Taj Mahal into the desert state of Rajasthan goes to the ‘pink’ city of Jaipur and then very often is headed for Pushkar, Udaipur or Jaisalmer further west.


What about the blue city of Jodhpur? What’s wrong with it?  I often wondered. Is it not recommended enough by guidebooks like the ‘lonely plant’? are people really rushing their way through this most beautiful part of india? it is probably a combination and it’s a pity anyway, i would say. More than once people told me they arrived in the morning and then take the train in the evening again. Those are the moments I praise myself for having all the time in the world (let’s not talk about the money)

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Contrary to Jaipur everything is in walking distance here and condensed around and under the Mehrangarh fort. It was easy to spend two weeks in this gorgeous atmosphere spinning between the blue houses, wandering around the tiny streets, photographing ‘the guard’ at the fort (among many other characters I stumbled upon in the alleys) and going to Ramesh (‘a real Bombay barber’) for my regular shave and face massage. (watch the video at the end)



jodhpur_rajasthan_12Jodhpur_blue_city_2‘the tailor’

jodhpur_blue_city_3‘7.04 PM’


Jodhpur_blue_city ‘Jamil’








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Jodhpur_Rajasthan‘the golden girl’




 ‘the bush at the fort’ & ‘the guard at the fort’







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Trekking the Annapurna Trail (part 2)

(click here to read from the start)

After having been mellow in Manang it is time to continue the journey to Tilicho lake now. I am having one of those surprisingly delicious samosas in my hand when the group to join arrives.



I have to tell you this: the vast amount of chang the day before yesterday seems to still affect my legs and the (greasy) samosas from this morning are having a weird party in my belly. So the relatively gentle ascent is challenging me more than a bit. Let’s say I am somehow suffering in these gorgeous surroundings…

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We arrive in Tilicho base camp after a day of stunning views along a very nice hike, even though an unusually challenging one for me. We have a dip in the icecold riverwater just because we can, kind of supported by the last rays of the sun before we head into the restaurant to wait for another dhal bhat !

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Click here for the full post on Tilicho Lake

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‘Tilicho Lake’, available in Stino Select

The next morning the weather turns out te be grey and rainy and we pity the people having to go up to the lake now and feeling thankful we had all the blueskies… On the way back to Manang I see several boys carrying huge logs of wood along the small trail, it looks pretty impressive and puts the idea of having a porter to carry your stuff in a different perspective altogether…







There is a shortcut to Yak Kharka on the way to the Thorang la pass but I decide to go back to Manang as I bet the shortcut is a bit overrated.  The descent to Manang takes longer than I thought though, and when I finally arrive I check in in my cosy room there for another night and have more samosas but no chang this time!



Next morning I proceed to Yak Kharka, after I had 4 samosas (and four more packed for later). The scenery is still not getting dull nor boring in any way visible, there’s a herd of mountain goats next to me and I take all the time to photograph them in their natural splendour. I see an Israeli couple and their porter stopping at every possible resting point and wonder when and if they will ever reach their destination.




I arrive in Letdar and I walk till the last option to stay and it seems like the nice people are assembled here. I immediately befriend a Korean guy named Dong who has a genuine smile on his face.

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I have not much options in choosing a room, actually no choice, I stay in one of the  attached wooden rooms. Next to me is an American couple, turns out they have exactly the same music taste as me so I DJ for a good part of the evening (from my phone) through the wall. It helps to stay warm as well. In the night I get bothered by symptoms of altitude sickness even though I am way lower again than Tilicho lake, how silly is that? The room at the other side is the toilet and I have to bear with all the sounds that come out of it (my earplugs are not doing what they’re supposed to). Awkward this is.


Next morning I set out with Dong and his wife Sil ; actually everybody starts at the same time at a VERY slow pace and it resembles queuing for the bathroom or something. Which is ok,  as, strangely enough, after 2 weeks of hiking my heel suddenly is an open wound and will challenge me more than a bit the next few days.

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This stretch of the trail is actually where a few weeks later the blizzards would kill dozens of hikers, it is still very hard to imagine what exactly happened here as this is the main hiking season when the weather is very stable.


Thorung Pedi is considered base camp before the Thorung La pass. (at 4450m – 14600ft) We’re having lunch here, I stay a little longer to acclimatise a little more. These are the times when I eat a piece of raw garlic every three hours and it really does magic. I go up to high camp and I realise I’m choosing the wrong time to be on my own, my body behaves a little strange and I have hardly any water left. Fortunately I meet a lovely Spanish couple who is hiking the trail in the opposite direction and they supply me with water. We exchange some useful do’s and dont’s and then continue our ways. The climb is very steep. I have no idea how long it’s gonna take. But pretty soon I see buildings appear and I arrive in high camp at 4850m – 15912 ft

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‘It’s pretty chilly up here’ I say to myself before realising it’s really bloody cold as the sun goes down. As if I hadn’t had enough yet, I climb the hill nearby to acclimatise even more in preparation for the high pass tomorrow. I feel pretty dizzy and hardly get up there, where three Russian ladies are acclimatising and chitchatting the time away in their flashy blue, green and red jackets as if constituting a brand new flag…


I go in the cosy restaurant to socialise with my friends and have a garlic soup (yes) but I notice it’s too cold and I’m really high on the altitude now and retreat to my room where I bury myself under sheets and promise myself not to go to the toilet under any circumstance in this freezing night.

Tucked in for 14 hours I have been waiting for the morning to come… My friends are already gone so it’s gonna be on my own again. I pay my bill and say something for the first time of my life: ‘keep the change and gimme some more garlic’. And even though ‘it is said’ 4 to 5 am is the best time to go up, there’s plenty of people going up around 7. the sky is blue and I’m sure it’s a little warmer than a few hours earlier! And the views splendid!

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The path is winding up higher and higher and I spread my two last chops of garlic over the estimated remaining time… it is fascinating again to feel how my teeth-grinded garlic does its fabulous work in my system. My augmenting dizziness settles down and the body adapts to the ever increasing altitude.

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The pass is a very long stretch of land to cross but finally the goal is reached. THORONG LA! People jump around in front of the camera’s and I enjoy photographing them. I don’t jump. I’m allright.


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And I keep my promise to Jacky -the Chinese guy whom I met at the beginning of the trail- and honour his request to put the picture of his girlfriend in a significant place. I wrap her in the colorful Tibetan prayer flags so she can overlook the pass and bless the fresh arrivals every single day! The first one is a British guy who walked all the way up with his bike next to him.  As he must have been ‘bike’walking’ for more than a week now he was so eager to jump on the saddle again. I see him almost go flat on his face missing the first curve seemingly overexcited to be ON his bike again!


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 After having photographed enough jumping people (it’s mainly the Chinese -again) I commence the descent. A group of mules is coming towards me and the valley extending beyond is simply gorgeous and makes me think of Ladakh in India.

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I stumble upon 3 young Frenchies, they seem superexcited not only about the hike but about anything in life,  a refreshing encounter, they walk as fast as they talk though, we almost fly down, and still the descent seems endless…




I had to let go of the speedy French in order to keep enjoying the views at my own pace. Finally Muktinath is in sight. It is a pilgrimage centre for both Hindus and Buddhists. Find the blogpost here. The town itself deeply disappoints but the temple grounds are the main appeal here.

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‘Muktinath Horse’, present in Stino’s New Current gallery

The morning after I see Pong again and we decide to take the long road to Kagbeni together, crossing small villages in the former Kingdom of Mustang. The Korean couple takes the straight road and the Frenchies… They  probably are already miles ahead!





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After having waited for half an hour for Pong to descend the gompa-monastery we were visiting in a small village, I decide to slowly walk on, I wait a bit in the next town and then again I continue. Little did I know I would be walking for hours in a remote dry desert…

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Usually I get water anywhere along the trail which I purify with chlorine tablets but the coming hours there is absolutely no water apart from a shallow muddy pool and the fierce wind feels like it is blowing every single drop of moist out of my body. I drink tiny sips of what is left in my bottle. The wind becomes so strong that I have to lean into it in order to progress a bit. Of course this is the time that my knee starts hurting as well as if going into a spasm and I try to remain calm, which is another challenge…

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After a few hours a green oasis appears and I don’t know if this is Kagbeni but there is definitely water and people there. The descent still takes much longer than the view and my wishful thinking are suggesting.

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Once in Kagbeni I check in in the ‘Yac Donald’s hotel and one of these days I would have their yakburger which tastes incredibly delicious. Turns out the Koreans are here as well (of all places) and that’s good for another blast of laughter. I also meet a fun Polish couple with whom I would spend the last few days of my hike. They were hesitant about the wind and they took in my recommendation coming from fresh experience so they stayed. Mustang_Nepal_15 Mustang_Nepal_16

I meet a new Zealand journalist who needs a photographer the next day.  I have a very comfy room so I stay a few days in Kagbeni which is on the verge of lower and upper Mustang. I need a permit if I’d want to go to upper Mustang which would cost me 500 $ for 10 days. So I can get a fine if i wander too much in the wrong direction here. But the winds are so crazy that this is not appealing to me too much…



I gotta say that from now on I am less excited about what I see around me landscape-wise.  Or the pain in my knee prevents me from enjoying them that is also possible. I arrive in Marpha where I ketchup with Piotr and Paulina and we celebrate that with apple brandy, the local delicacy. the rest of the day we enjoy singing songs, playing guitar and sipping brandy. Even though it’s way heavier than chang it won’t sink into my legs the next day.


Because of the above mentioned activities we’re engrossed in, I have a very quick look around Marpha the next morning. We -me and the Polish- all agree that it is a little too polished here and resembles more a place in Switzerland than a genuine town in Nepal.

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The epilogue… last stretch to Tatopani, the promising place with the hot springs I figured would be the end of  my three week hike. We take a wrong detour along the riverbed, have to go back, take a break at a Dutch bakery where a Dutch man serves us Douwe Egberts koffie (coffee) and somehow move on bit by bit…




At a certain point we loose a lot of time by thinking to have a smart shortcut by crossing the riverbed and a few tiny streams ; they turn out to be pretty fast running waters and I almost loose my balance and belongings in the water, but we make it and the thrill feels good on this silly day.

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As I expected the last days to be the easy-going ones it turns out to be quite the opposite ; we walk for almost 10 hours, It seems  though my knee is at the end of its capacity. I have an ongoing intense pain but I want to reach Tatopani by my own forces. Fortunately we have our Monthy Python imitations as an ongoing relief and the first thing upon arrival is of course a good cold beer. One at a time!




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The Boudhanath Stupa

I have spent 6 weeks in the Boudhanath area in Kathmandu  after staying in the rather crazy Thamel district where the bulk of tourists end up and where noise is rampant. You gotta like it.

If you like things really chill and you’re not against a good old spiritual vibe along with more pleasant city surroundings then Boudhanath is where you might wanna end up  when you hit the Nepalese capital, whether or not on your way to do some trekking.

It is a very sacred place for Tibetan buddhists but it is also a favorite hangout for the youth dressed in the latest fashion fooling around with each other under the almighty piercing eyes overlooking the Boudhanath area.




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Taj Mahal: a different perspective















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Haidakhan Babaji (part2)

click here for part 1

Haidakhan Calling

30 years after Haidakhan babaji had left the body I arrived in Haidakhan. Finally! Haidakhan had been on my radar for a long time and I always knew something was up there for me. 8 years ago I crossed the junction at Haldwani leading to Haidakhan while on an epic adventure trip through India on the classic Royal Enfield motorbike.


I often heard that one makes it only to Haidakhan when one is ready for the experience. Every now and then people immediately leave again upon arrival as the energy can be too much to handle all at once.

I had a strong sense of the appropriate timing now so I took the journey up there. I was literally jampacked with the locals in a shared jeep, me being one of the  sardines in a can making its way up on the long winding road through the hills. I really had to hurt myself in order to catch a glimpse of the amazing scenery unfolding. When we arrived in the valley, I jumped out of the can and  the sheer beauty  was  flooding me. I would stretch my fins out into paradise…


After checking in I immediately took to the riverbed for my first bath. After all I AM a fish and I thrive in water. The singing stream  here surfaces a little further up so it’s crystal clear water here which might be a very unique thing in this very polluted country. A reason for celebration on its own!


The day upon arrival is a day free from ‘duty’  so I spent it in the  gorgeous surroundings. I would find my favorite places for the next few weeks. Like the Hanuman statue in the middle of the riverbed next to an amzing Bodhi tree.Haidakhan_Babaji_16

In a funny way I had been looking forward to the daily schedule that starts at 4AM (!!) as yours truly wanted to regain a healthy portion of dicipline in his life.

I have to add immediately that we were kinda expected to take our morning bath in the river before 4.30, but after 8 felt a little better to me Haidakhan_Babaji_3when the sun was out to carress my body. Yes I was aware of the fact that Haidakhan babaji (who never or hardly slept) used to send people to have a bath at 2AM! Quite an awakener!

 Haidakhan_Babaji_7At 5AM it was time  for ‘chandan’ when colored sandalwood paste is being applied to the forehead in stripes and a dot (bindu), which leaves a cooling, grounding effect to the head. I missed chandan the first few times as  the clock of the man giving it  was half an hour ahead! But when I did catch up with him in Babaji’s ‘kutir’, ‘His’ room, the reward in the early morning was pretty awesome as the presence, energy, in there was very (very) strong, impossible to describe appropriately so let me put it very plain and dry here: it blew my mind away.


We were standing in line and had to move quickly in and out unfortunately but I managed to linger a little second longer (which is a long time seen from the timeless!) before I moved out and went into the temple to sit for meditation which was pretty easy with no mind interfering…

Haidakhan_Babaji_12At 6.30 aarti would start, the singing of devotional songs, everyday the same beautiful riddle. It was like stepping into a stream and by singing and singing one gets carried away by the flow itself and gets into surrendering mode word by word, closer and closer to the source of it all. Aum…..


You see, this is a bhakti path, a path of surrender to the divine by means of devotional actions. This path is relatively new to me (in this lifetime at least). What is very apparent here is the making of ‘pranams’ which means the bowing down in front of a statue or image. Where I totally loved to go with the rhythm of the songs and surrender more and more into that, the ‘bowing-thing’ went too far for me.


So where people were even throwing themselves on the floor, stretching out in front of Babaji, I remained with what felt real to me.

I noticed the fascinating hazy zone defined by learning to move more into surrendering mode but also staying true to my own experience and not being bothered too much by what the others are doing.

There were moments where I actually did bow down when I felt connected to my own guru self deep down there. That honouring felt like a gentle breeze inside of me washing away resistance.

Sacred_Places_7Then it was time for my daily porridge at Raju’s just outside the temple grounds with a view that took my breath away (if it was not gone already)

Or I was at the shop of a great fun guy called Pan who would always surprise you in his very cheerful way with things curiously available in such a remote place…Haidakhan_Babaji_21

Karma Yoga

If you would ask me: “what was Babaji’s main teaching apart from the very general notion of ‘truth, simplicity and love'” then I would have to answer you: Karma yoga!

Karma Yoga means selfless service, work offered to the divine. By working from that intention, one cleanses the layers of selfishness that most of us have around us. (I would say). I had known of karma yoga pretty much since I was on a spiritual path but never felt the inclination towards it for seemingly obvious reasons as I can do work anywhere and at anytime if I wanted to, right!?

But now I knew there was something here to discover for me, I felt passionate to understand its jewel as most often the most profound things are found right in front of the eager nose…


I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I took to sweeping ; with the Indian version of a broom in my hand now I took to my duties as a ‘karma yogin’. With sufficient ‘truth, simplicity and love’ towards myself I would say even though I had a ‘little thing’ going on with ‘the others’ which very soon would challenge me a lot…


It was said in the morning gatherings that karma yoga is being done in community and everyone is working same hours and we all stick to the schedule. Great. Really.

Haidakhan_Babaji_9When everybody is feeling inspired from within then we all have a blast together doing our karma yoga. After all, being in community with a genuine community feeling has become a real desire of me. I got fortunate glimpses of that in the past and I have an intuitive outline of what it is that suits me. Even though yes indeed, I might hold a utopian ideal with me altogether…. time will tell…

Haidakhan_Babaji_13While I was sweeping my way inside myself being bended over the broom, hurting my back, which would soon be aching for some good oldscool Hatha Yoga, it suddenly dawned on me I was pretty much the only one working full-on, but as it might very well be my own projections surfacing from within the inner turmoil, I let it be while I was checking in with my guidance…

Haidakhan_Babaji_10I was also responsible for the trash in the ashram.  Organic is being separated from inorganic but still I had to swallow my resistance and burn the plastic (a curious indian custom). The fumes of the plastic and cloth and what is it not all went straight up around Babaji’s Kutir (the special place I described before and might be holy indeed in the core sense of the word), o irony!

Haidakhan_Babaji_11Yes I made it a point in the community but very soon had to let it go and surrender to the nasty Indian way. And as Babaji is able to manifest a body at will I’m sure he can deal with some nasty fumes as well…

There’s a curious mix of visitors here.  I have visited ashrams of Babaji in Holland and Italy and they were really nice places. Here in Haidakhan, apart from the Germans, it is the Italians who are strongly represented and I loved their craziness and the jolly passionate surrender when singing.

Haidakhan_Babaji_6I saw that karma yoga works, and how, and why… a sweet revelation. Even though my mind was often in a lot of agitation and hesitation between confronting the others (who insisted on the schedule) with their lack of alignment with the schedule and at the other hand stepping it up a notch towards just minding my own business.

Sacred_places_5In the end I found a middle way in partly expressing my frustration and leaving all the rest to ‘their own karma’.  At least I have swept my own!

A lot of that frustration simply vanished by me simply sweeping the ashram (often in the burning heat which made me take to electrolytes) and also by my three baths a day in this amazing Ganga water.

Sacred_Places_2So often there is talk of the holy rivers in India and the amazing benefits you get if you take a bath in a certain place. I never got that, but here I definitely got something in that understanding for myself, in a similar way I experienced it in the healing waters of Stuart Springs near mount Shasta in California, another place very dear to me.

Legend has it that the Kumaon Kailash in Haidakhan was the original centre of pilgrimage before it moved to the ‘popular’ Kailash in Haidakhan_Babaji_8Tibet. Whatever is true about it, the cave at its foot, where Babaji meditated for a long time -and it is said Shiva himself a loooooong time ago- is really special. I was always eager to get in there after my ‘karmic duties’ and river baths but

Haidakhan_Babaji_5after half an hour I would be burnt -not by the sun this time- but by the sheer power present there. I was hardly able to get out on my feet (even though I had to walk on all four to get in and out) to find my way  into the cooling river again.


The flow of my daily rhythm then would take me to Prakash at the ‘cave-side’ of the river. Prakash was Babaji’s pujari (someone who performs rituals and ceremony) for many years and now is pretty much retired and is fortunate to spend his remaining years in this divine center. He felt like a very old friend to me. His demeanor is so calm that it felt I not only took a bath in the river but soon after that also in Prakash’s presence. When he saw me from far he would wave and affectionately exclaim: ‘Shambu!’


We enjoyed each other’s presence mainly in silence, listening to the river and the wind in the trees. I would ask him questions on his life with Babaji which he answered but silence took over very soon again as if he were saying: ultimately, there really are no questions, there is only surrendering to and being THAT



check out part 1 where the Babaji story is put into perspective


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