“We arrived into the Kochi airport late at night and drove to Fort Kochi where we were based out of Prems homestay for the first few nights. We spent the first days exploring the local shops, eating lots of delicious food, and taking in all that comes with being in India. We took a amazing historical tour of Kochi with Mr. Shabeeb who has been a coordinator for many things that we have been up to. He showed us the synagogue, the Mattancherry palace – where he described the story that was painted on the wall, the temple, and we ended the day at a local art cafe. We also attended a local martial arts show where Sage, Ben, and Olivia got to get on stage and learned some tricks. That night we rang in the beginning of the new month by doing some laundry and watching some unexpected fireworks on the roof! The next day was the first the students had on their own. We broke into groups and explored, discovering our individual versions of Kochi. The next day, we met with Shabeeb again who led us on a amazing bike adventure through the countryside of Kerala. We were in the Hornbill camp which was beautiful and the group was able to go kayaking. It provided a much needed day filled with activity and nature. The next day was the first night at our home stays and the first day of classes. The students ended up taking a mixture of painting, ayurveda, photography, henna, drumming, martial arts, and meditation classes. Our second to last night in Kochi there was a huge thunderstorm that some found incredible and others a little scary. With the thunderstorm brought huge rains and David, so finally our group was complete. We spent our last night with the homestay families and said our final goodbyes in the morning before we got on the train to Bangalore.” -Emma Beau – LEAPYEAR Arjuna group member
Our last week was bittersweet….we traveled from Agra to Rishikesh with a pit stop at the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal was absolutely beautiful and we probably took around 1000 pictures between all eleven of us. We visited Agra Fort as well which was equally if not more beautiful. We met a guide who took us around the place and apparently he met Oprah once? Super cool. The stories we heard that day about the history behind the Taj Mahal were really special. Love, death, and wealth were all expressed in the white marble and an abundance of details, such as flowers carved out of stone and into the walls and Arabic engraved into columns that framed the front doors. The beauty and opulence was almost overwhelming, not to mention the mass amount of tourists, but it was a really special day for our group to experience what’s become a huge piece of Indian history and culture.
In Agra, we said goodbye to our elephant and bear friends and made our way to Rishikesh at 4:30 in the morning. We made it by the afternoon and settled into our rooms at the ashram, Parmarth Niketan. First things first, the ashram was crazy beautiful. We came full circle to see our old stomping grounds, the Himalayas, just from the other side this time around. At Parmarth Niketan, we practiced yoga twice a day, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. Our teachers were incredible and taught us a couple new chants we’re bringing home.
Every night in Parmarth, there was an Aarti down by the Ganga where there were offerings of song, fire, rice, oil and chanting. Our second night, we had the privilege of participating in the offering ceremony and it was breathtaking. We all sat around a fire by the Ganga and made different offerings, while a giant crowd of people watched and chanted around us. At the end, the guru and president of the ashram, Pujya Swamiji, who may or may not be considered God, came down and joined us for the remainder of the ceremony. The ceremony left each of us speechless and grateful.
After the Aartis, there was a satsang where an American devotee of Puyjs Swamiji named Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati answered questions about life, spirituality, and India. Saraswati’s intellectual and spiritual balance was inspiring. The only word that fully captures the essence of her and the satsangs she shared with us is grace.
Other than cool yoga classes, Aartis by the Ganga, and insightful spiritual talks, this week was about wrapping up curriculum. We created checklists each day for which assignments, papers, and projects needed to be completed. Woo college!
We also battled groups of monkeys on multiple occasions. Rumor has it a group of monkeys stole two pairs of Sarah’s pants…
Another totally fun thing about this week was our Secret Santa. The group participated in a Secret Santa in honor of December where we drew each other’s names out of a hat and had a special person that we showed appreciation for throughout the week. Leilah got a giant Cadbury chocolate bar that could last well into January and Ann got warm, fuzzy pajamas from Ricky that she can’t wait to rock back at Maacama.
Towards the end of the week, we celebrated Brendan’s 31st and got him a cool green scarf. First, we celebrated at the end of a satsang where Saraswati led two Happy Birthday songs, one in English and one in Sanskrit. We then moved the party all the way to a pizza place called Namaste Italiano that we each agree was the best restaurant we ate at the whole trip. Eating pizza around a fire while Mikaela sang and played guitar for us was a highlight to our stay in Rishikesh and the trip as a whole. We tuk tuk’d home with full bellies and hearts that night, ready to get some sleep for our early wake up call the next morning.
What felt like a couple hours later, we woke up at 5am to watch the sunrise from Kanjapuri Temple in the mountains for our last day of the trip. We watched the deep colors of an early morning sky almost fade and melt into the blue color above the peaks. The sun peered behind and out of a cloud, then rose high above the purple and pink colors that lingered in the clouds. The air chilled our faces, fingers, and toes, but we wrapped our scarfs and each other tighter. After the sunrise, the group hiked down back to the ashram, stopping at a picturesque waterfall where people swam for the first time in India.
In the afternoon, we headed back to the Ganga and found a tiny beach to celebrate our experience together as a group for the last time before heading back to Maacama.
There were so many beautiful moments on this trip that we’ll each carry with us long after we return home with bigger backpacks and hearts. We’ve grown as individuals and as a group through lice, monkey bites, stomach bugs, hours on buses, the Indian Money Crisis 2016, Trump’s election, joyously dancing with groups of kids in the plains of Nepal, getting to know our host families, fire dancing, trekking for days together, and gratitude circles. Every experience, good, bad, or ugly, made this trip into what it beautifully came together to become. Our gratitude for our teachers, mentors, homestay families, and friends we made here is endless, along with our families and friends at home we’re all excited to head home to with heavier hearts. Thank you for reading along and sharing this experience with us.
Namaste and see you soon!
LeapYear North India Fall 2016 “Dhal Baht Power 24 Hour!”
This year we steered away from the traditional Thanksgiving meal and instead all worked together to make samosas and pasta. Although we had limited resources we pulled it off and had a fantastic Thanksgiving meal.
This week we volunteered at Wildlife SOS in Agra. This organization works towards the rehabilitation of elephants and sloth bears that have spent their lives being used as entertainment for profit. The elephants were rescued from circuses and from begging on the side of the street. Whereas the sloth bears were rescued from the tradition of being “dancing bears.” At Wildlife SOS the rescued animals live the rest of their lives in peace and happiness, sadly because of their lives in captivity none of the animals are able to return to the wild. For the first two days we worked with the elephants, in the mornings we accompanied the elephants on walks, in the afternoon we helped to feed and bathe the elephants. On the days we worked with the sloth bears we built enrichment’s for the bears which were platforms made from logs which we lashed together with ropes, we were also able to watch the bears eat. We are so grateful for our time at WSOS and all the incredible work they do to help the animals.
On our last day in Agra we went to the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. Both were amazing structures and feats of architecture. We had a lot of fun and learned a ton about the history of the Taj Mahal. We learned that it was built as a monument of love for the queen, serving as her tomb, and that the king was eventually usurped by his son and throw in prison. When he died he to was entombed with in the Taj.
All in all we had an amazing week fraught with fantastic and new experiences for all of us.
This week the South India group had tons of fun volunteering with young monks, helping out as assistant teachers at an orphanage and talking with the young women at the probation center! At the orphanage, volunteers worked with 2 to 3-year-olds and 4 to 5-year-olds in classrooms. At times the children could make it tough to teach, however by the end of the week they were following English songs and learned emotions like happy, sad, angry, etc. At the probation center we did lots of laughing, drawing, dancing, and singing. It was a ton of fun to connect with the girls and be in their crazy, lasini (Sinhalese word for beautiful) presence! The monks at the monastery were super nice too, full of curiosity and energy. They taught us how to play cricket too! The more time we spent with them the more they opened up and the more we bonded, by the end it seemed like we knew them for weeks! Overall it’s been two packed weeks full of learning, exploring, and fun. That’s all for this week in Sri Lanka!
South India Out!
Starting off our first adventurous week in Sri Lanka was amazing! We are the first LEAPNOW group to step foot into Sri Lanka and we are making sure that we’re going to leave our mark! We started off our week with a tour of a beautiful dutch fort in the heart of Galle. We all were mesmerized by the European architecture and how ancient yet modern it was. We all found a small yet elegant gelato shop, called Illeys. To cool us down from the sun’s malevolent rays, we all bought gelato and relaxed in this beautiful shop. We kept walking throughout the dutch fort and stopped at the edge. We were all drawn to the relaxing sounds of the ocean waves hitting the rocks, and we sat there for a few minutes to take in the surrounding beauty. We came back home to our beautiful home stays where our families cooked an amazing Sri Lankan dish called Hoppers and vegetable Rotty. Us being extremely hungry and eager to try out our first Sri Lankan local dish. IT WAS INCREDIBLE!
As the week progressed, we went to a beautiful wild life park called Yala that was north of Galle. We were in Jeeps that had no roof, so we were able to take in all of the beauty of the environment and animals of this forest. It truly was an exciting experience seeing all of the animals co-existing in the same habitat and how incredibly unique each animal is!
We then visited a turtle hatchery to see these exquisite turtles and their eggs. It was an astounding experience. Turtles are so graceful in the way they move and communicate. It was touching to see how the hatchery rescued turtles in danger and treated them so they might once again be able to live there lives in the oceans.
To cap off this amazing week of events, we all went to see a beautiful Buddhist monastery that was on the ocean. To get there, you have to walk along a bridge that is suspended over the ocean. The views were breathtaking! After stepping foot in this mysterious yet graceful monastery, we went into a room where people would pray to lord Buddha and meditate. We partook in this practice and got a white string tied around our right our arm while the monks were blessing us. We then all sat down and meditated for 10 minutes and it felt incredible to be right next to the ocean while doing so, it was a powerful moment for all of us and we were grateful to be there. We ended this eventful week with a family dinner of all of us eating in the dutch fort and enjoying each others company. Next week our volunteer work starts. We’re excitedto help the kids of the Orphanage and Monastery!
Happy Early Turkey Day From Varanasi!
Here in vegetarian India, no animals will be hurt in the making of our Thanksgiving this year. Actually, we will be working with elephants and bears at a wildlife sanctuary in two days. Today we are leaving Varanasi via a 14 hour train ride to the city of Agra. Ricky is VERY excited to be on the train. Our past 14 days in Varanasi have been what I can only call organized chaos. The city has been a challenge for every single group member in so many different ways as well as an amazing teacher to all of us. Everyone is very sad to be leaving their home stays, but also so excited for the next adventure.
And now, a few highlights of the past week. Let us tell you all about the best movie on the face of the planet. In case you weren’t aware, India produces quite the films. We went to the movies to watch a traditional Bollywood movie as a group, but had no idea what we were in for. Long story short, it was a love story that got rather complicated. But no worries there was singing and dancing and perfectly timed balloon drops on the streets of Scotland. Yeah that’s right folks, an Indian movie based in Scotland. Something that was
equally awesome was the fire dancing performance performed by three students: Leilah, Sarah and Lucas. Needless to say, it was awesome. They each twirled around a stick with both ends quite on fire. Sarah may or may not have burned a small strand of her hair off. Speaking of fire, our guide, Sangrameetra, took us down to the burning ghat yesterday. For those of you who don’t
know what that is, it’s where the death ceremony is performed. In the ceremony, family members lay the body down by the Ganges and clean it off before laying it under a pile of wood and burning it for 4-5 hours until they collect the ashes and spread them in the river. It was an equally powerful and difficult thing to witness.
We miss everyone in the states and we are so excited to share our stories with all of you guys in three weeks.
All the love and light,
Leaving Roatan was hard. The wonderful new friends we made at Octopus Dive School and Buena Onda Hostel were sad to see us go. But Nicaragua was calling our names, and we were quick to answer! However, despite our initial enthusiasm, we were sadly delayed for an hour and a half in the San Salvadore Airport. This
actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because by that point we were all starving and 30 minutes is not a lot of time to grab a lunch. Our first impression of Nicaragua was fantastic. After going through the usual hum-drum of customs, James, a Leapnow staff member, greeted us with fabulous dance moves and a fully planned three day Vacation at a lovely
hostel by a lake called Peace Project. We had a wonderful time, a mixture of working on internships and lakeside activities helped rejuvenate our bodies and spirits. This time passed quickly and we soon found ourselves on our way to Matagalpa with our new favorite driver, Eddy. Eddy took us first to an artisan market in Masaya where we bought gifts for our family members. Don’t worry, nobody got anything too crazy. Once we had a chance to settle into our home-stays, our classwork began at the charming Colibri Spanish School. The teachers there were very adaptable to all styles of learning, and the coffee was impeccable which helped a lot. Through the school, we had the rare opportunity to join a silent
protest against domestic violence in Nicaragua.We painted our faces white to symbolize the pureness and light of the women who were murdered. We also wore red to represent the blood shed. We marched to the police station, to draw attention towards the police officials who refuse to acknowledge these
crimes, and the organizer gave a speech over megaphone. It was a powerful experience. What a way to start the week!
The bell rang at 530, stirring us all from our sleep. Outside the window, the trees were merely shadows in the morning darkness, and we silently got ready as the sun began to creep its way up. Out the dormitory building and down the path passed the tea station, we walked on a little trail outlined by beautiful magenta flowers, to reach what was a vast, smooth floor, covered by an orange dome. This is where we would begin our day at the yoga ashram, the ten of us mingled with eighty or so others for meditation and chanting. An hour and a half later, still humming ‘Jaya
Ganeisha’ under our breaths, we walked to another yoga space and began our two hour long asana practice. Each day this sequence would change only slightly in variation of certain poses, but we would always begin with a series of surya namaskar (sun salutations), and then move through seated postures, shoulderstands, headstands, balancing postures, finally ending with savasana. The schedule then moved through philosophy classes, karma yoga, and then ending the day with another round of asana, meditation and chanting.
The yoga ashram became a place for each of us, where closure could happen. It was a space for silence and appreciation, and also wonderful conversation with so many people from around the world. It was a time when small beautiful connections were made, and also a time when saying goodbye to India was approaching. The ashram challenged us in different ways, and by the end brought us closer together to send us off to Sri Lanka. We touched down on the lush island to find ourselves surrounded by the element of water, which was a huge shift for us and would continue to be so. On the second night, standing in the rain on the edge of the ocean, feet buried in the sand, we watched as darkness fell. We then each said our intentions for the last part of this trip, and one obstacle we’d overcome in India. Taking a handful of sand, we then bid farewell by tossing it into the sea in the direction of the land we had spent two months in. And as the tides flowed in and out, so did our intentions, caught in the net of the sea, and heard by the soul of Sri Lanka
As America dealt with the results of the presidential election this week, we on the Indian subcontinent were preoccupied with our own predicament: PM Modi’s declaration that
the 500 and 1000 Rs notes, the country’s highest denomination, are now invalid. The decision was made as an attempt to curb the flow of black money, which refers to funds made on the black market on which taxes have not been paid. As luck would have it, virtually all of the group’s money was made up of these very bills, and so we woke up November 9th to the news that Trump was President and that our money was now just colorful paper.
The banks were charged with exchanging the old bills for working ones. The main objective of our week was going to the various banks in Assi and trading in our defunct bills, a task that combines the dreary waiting of a DMV visit with the agitation and
excitement of a sporting event. The 500 and 1000 Rs notes account for 80% of India’s cash in circulation and the country is largely run on cash transactions, so every bank was packed with hordes of people desperate to exchange their money. ATMs were closed all across the city, and the few ones that were working were swarmed by huge amounts of people. The ATMs would inevitably run out of money, leaving the majority of those waiting in line without cash. Foreigners were given preferential treatment at the banks, waiting in special lines that took a fraction of the time to move through. Whether this was right or not was something that many of us in the group grappled with, as we walked past hundreds of people who’d been waiting in line for hours to trade in their currency. Nonetheless, the money we exchanged is necessary for paying for our food and accommodations, and the whole process has taken up the majority of our week.
Our week was not all about banks and money though. On November 14th the group celebrated Dev Deepawali, a festival celebrating the gods descent to the ghats. The ghats
are the name of the riverfront steps leading down to the River Ganges in Varanasi. The whole city was
buzzing that day as everyone decorated the ghats with sculptures, lights, and stages, in preparation for the festivities that night. The group met that night at our favorite cafe, and we all went down to the ghats together (though some of the group chose to celebrate with their homestay families). The ghats were busier than we’d ever seen them. Lights shone all around us and music blared in our ears as we squirmed past crowds of people looking for a boat to take us down the Ganga. With the help of Sangameetra, our
guide and guardian angel, we were able to find a boat and get onto the river and away from the crowds of people. Our boat ride was absolutely magical. Varanasi features 87 distinct ghats, and it seemed that each ghat tried to outdo the others
with beautiful displays of light and fireworks. The supermoon shone red on the Ganga as we passed hundreds of
diyas, clay oil lamps dropped in the water
silent awe while we rode up and down the river, each of us entranced by the magic of the night. The experience was something that none of us will ever forget. to honor the gods. Each one of us had a chance to drop a diya in celebration. We all sat in
After a few busy weeks, staying at the yoga and meditation retreat called Las Piramades was a welcomed time of relaxation. We began each day
with an hour of yoga where we both energized our muscles and calmed our minds. We then made our own breakfasts from local, high quality fruit, yogurt, peanut butter, bread and eggs. The bread was made by a local lady who also makes kombucha, kefir,
kimchi, and other probiotic products. Each day, we’d also have a class on metaphysics and specifically lucid dreaming and astral traveling taught by an amazing lady named Chaty who also led us in a daily hour-long meditation. She explained to us the process of transcending different dimensions and shared her own
eye-opening experiences. The name Las Piramades has a specific story, but it also is embedded in the architecture. Most of us stayed in little hobbit house pyramids, and the whole retreat was beautiful. Each day we’d do movement in a garden full of healing herbs. For lunch and dinner, we arranged for a local restaurant to make us group meals. It was owned by a very jolly English man named Paul who was always willing to support us.
Our free time consisted of visits to the local cafe with delicious cookies, tranquil aesthetics, and fresh juices. We would also spend time on the dock, go for walks, talk to other travelers, and soak up the cultural blend. We had the amazing opportunity to free our minds and bodies at the local ecstatic dance. It took about thirty minutes to hike up to this beautiful center called the Yoga Forest surrounded by waterfalls, nestled between two mountains, and overlooking the mystical Lago Atitlan. We danced for a few hours, drank cacao, and twirled in arial silks. That afternoon we partook in a casual kirtan or devotional chanting session, which was very energetic. Our whole week was focused on balancing ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
After this rejuvenating
time, we headed to the airport to make our trip to Roatan, Honduras. We began our journey by sleeping on the airport floor, which was difficult but rewarding and eye-opening nonetheless. Getting off the plane, we were hit by a wave of humidity and heat, and saw the beautiful turquoise Caribbean Sea in front of us. We arrived at our hostel and began the next part of our thriving journey.