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Dharamsala Animal Rescue: How an American Woman Found Her Passion in a Village in India

India changes people. If you don’t believe me, just ask Deb Jarrett. She was an American, turning 40 and needing a change her life. She loved to travel, so she volunteered with a charitable organization called Cross Cultural Solutions and signed up for a few weeks in India.  Fast forward nearly a decade later and she is running her own nonprofit, rescuing animals from the harsh streets of India and an important part of the Dharamsala community. Dharamsala is probably best known for being the town of residence of His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet.

I met Deb while on a trek in the Himalaya Mountains on our way up to Triund. It was hard to miss her big radiant smile and 3-legged dog named Jack. After only a 5-minute conversation we became friends. Her commitment and passion for helping others, whether they be 2-legged or 4-legged beings, inspires me to be a better person.

 

The beginning of Dharamsala Animal rescue

When she first came to India for a few weeks as a volunteer working with women and children, she was astonished at the mistreatment of animals, in particular, dogs. There was a poor little sickly one in the corner of the temple where she was working and no one seemed to care about it. Deb, being a woman of action, contacted a vet for assistance, and well the rest is history.

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A cottage at Dudhsagar Plantation

Dudhsagar Plantation: A Botanical Utopia Hidden in the Jungle of Goa

I had an extraordinary time visiting a real Indian farm in Southeastern Goa. Dudhsagar Plantation is a guesthouse spread on about 50 beautiful acres. They have 5 cottages scattered amongst the agricultural paradise and employ around 14 people. The farm is owned by Doris and Ajit Malkarnekar who started it over 30 years ago. Doris is from Germany and still lives there. Ajit is Goan. Their son, Ashok, was my host. His wife actually lives in Indonesia. I found it fascinating that both couples are international and live apart most of the time. I guess when running a large plantation, you do what you have to in order to keep the place running smoothly. In fact, I’ve met many people in India that live apart from their spouses in order to meet obligations of extended family and work. It’s not terribly uncommon.

Accommodations

Beside the 5 cottages, the grounds also have a fair sized swimming pool and open air common dining room. It has a thatched roof and is situated just outside the main house. The food was delicious and featured many of their farm grown fruits, vegetables and spices.

The tour

Ashok gave me the grand tour and I was captivated by every amazing detail. Their main crop is coconuts and they harvest 3 to 4 times per year. They cook with their own homemade bio gas, which is basically methane made from liquefied cow dung. Cow dung is a popular fuel in India. Traditionally, many homes dry cow dung discs and cook with them year around. Sometimes it takes a little getting used to because the smell of burning cow dung mixes with the aroma of the food and is a little pungent for western senses, but food cooked on biogas does not have this odour.

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The view at Olaulim Backyards

I found Paradise in the Backyards of Panjim, Goa, India

Everyone is always talking about Goa like it’s some sort of exotic dream vacation destination, so I had to find out for myself why it’s so popular. I’ve only spent three days here and I never want to leave! Goa is heavenly, and my accommodations are sheer paradise!

What and Where

I’m staying at a charming home stay called Olaulim Backyards, situated on 3 lovely acres located about half an hour outside of Panjim. Panjim is the capital of the state of Goa. Home Stays are popular in India and one of my favorite types of places. They are typically a cheaper alternative to a hotel and provide a “no frills” style of accommodations. However, Olaulim (the name of the village) Backyards is an extraordinary exception.

My Cottage

I arrived after dark, weary from a day of travel. Pirkko Fernandes, co-owner and hostess, met me with a smile at the car and introduced herself. She is originally from Finland but has lived in India for over 20 years. Her hospitality and graciousness were evident from the very beginning. I felt like I had just arrived home. She showed me to my cottage and I was immediately impressed with every beautiful detail. The bed was soft and actually had sheets (unusual for India unless staying in a 4 or 5-star hotel).  The bamboo accents and soft golden lighting instantly helped me relax. The bathroom was an open air style with a 6-foot solid mud wall around it, thatched roof and a concrete floor. It makes you feel like you are part of nature yet still have all the comforts of home.  I really had no idea though what a charming and beautiful place it was until the next morning.

 

I awoke to the sounds of birds singing cheerfully outside of my cottage. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a peacock calling in the distance and wind chimes making soft music in the cool morning breeze. I made myself a cup of coffee and then headed out to the pool area to meditate, do some yoga and watch the sunrise over the bay. It was the perfect start to an incredibly relaxing day. 

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The students of Rishikesh Yog Peeth Rafting

Enjoying Fun and Friends at Rishikesh Yog Peeth

It’s not all hard work at Rishikesh Yog Peeth. We are now in our third week of a four week course and we’ve made many new friends along the way. There may even be some romance blooming amongst some students (shhhh). We have a lot of fun between classes and on the weekends, so you can hear laughter ringing through the halls on a regular basis. The ashram obviously tries really hard to build a sense of family and to create some fun memories for everyone. Here are just a few things that we’ve enjoyed, along with a short interview with a couple of my new friends.

Trek up to a temple for an early morning blessing

A large group of students went on a short hike up a mountain to a temple to receive a special blessing from a spiritual leader. My weekends have been busy with Kirti because we have only a few days left to enjoy each other’s company for a while, but it sounds like the group had a wonderful time. Many of the students here are clearly enjoying the spiritual aspects of the program.

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Beth on the bungee swing

My New Year Fun in India: From Night Club to Adrenaline Rush!

This was a special New Year’s celebration for me. It was my first one in India and I was blessed to spend it with Kirti, my boyfriend for the last 11 months. He got into Rishikesh on Saturday night and we wasted no time in finding something fun to do to ring in the new year. We headed back to Anna’s Café hoping for more dancing, but this time they had a drum circle going on instead. A few other guys were playing the digeridoo and the result was a beautiful tribal sound that almost left us in some sort of euphoric trance. At the stroke of midnight, the starry night sky was temporarily interrupted with a fantastic display of fireworks. 2016 instantly became history and we welcomed 2017 with open hearts and a special kiss.

On Our Way to Jumpin Heights

The next morning, we were up early to catch a taxi up the mountains to the famous Giant Bungee Swing at Jumpin Heights. It’s a lot like a bungee jump only the harness is connected to your chest instead of your feet. Also, instead of just bouncing up and down you are swung way out over the Ganges River. We were really looking forward to the experience and were in good spirits.

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My class at Rishikesh Yog Peeth

2 Weeks of Intensive Yoga Training at Rishikesh Yog Peeth: How Do I feel?

Before I came to Rishikesh Yog Peeth I had never done a single yoga class in my life. Now I intend to make yoga an important part of my everyday life. In only 2 weeks I have observed a few major changes in my mind, body and spirit, so much so that I only want to learn more. I know now why it is a lifestyle. Here’s how I’m feeling.

Stronger

I thought the only real way to strengthen my muscles was by lifting weights in a gym. Boy! Was I wrong! I didn’t realize that the best way to build strength is by simply using your own body weight. There are so many yoga poses that once held, build your muscles. A good example is the tree pose. Stand with both feet together. Now lift one leg and press the flat of your foot into the other thigh. (Be careful not to press your foot against your knee). Now lift your arms straight over head so they are next to your ears. Engage your legs and arms and core so they are tight and maintain your balance. Make sure you are standing straight. Tuck in your butt and take 5 long deep breaths. My legs started quivering on the second breath, but I know it’s because it’s improving my strength and balance. I see the tone in my muscles already.

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Christmas at Rishikesh Yog Peeth

Christmas in India: My Weirdest Christmas Ever

I was watching a funky looking Indian Santa Clause shake his fake balloon belly on the dance floor when it hit me. It was my weirdest Christmas ever. While all my friends and family were enjoying turkey and opening gifts in America, I was spending my Christmas in Rishikesh, India.

It all started out as a pretty traditional Christmas Eve. My yoga ashram, Rishikesh Yog Peeth, decorated the courtyard with Christmas lights, played classic Christmas music for us and lit a nice bond fire. They even had a small Christmas tree set up. It was a really lovely start to the holiday weekend.

Unexpected visit from a friend

My phone rang and it was Kirti. He surprised me with an unexpected visit and I was delighted to spend Christmas weekend with someone special. I wouldn’t be alone after all!  We wasted no time heading out on the town to find some festivities. Someone told me that Anaa’s Café was having a nice Christmas celebration so we climbed into a taxi to go check it out.

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