One year down the road, with just over 9,000 miles on the odometer and experiences from seventeen countries forever etched in my memory, it seemed like the perfect time to take another look back at the actual route cycled, this time from Yaniklar, Turkey to Kathmandu, Nepal.
Click the following links to view the the two previous posts summarising the journey so far which detail the actual route cycled from Leicester, England to Zagreb, Croatia and from Zagreb, Croatia to Yaniklar, Turkey.
Yaniklar, Turkey to Van, Turkey
Tabriz, Iran to the Island of Qeshm, Iran
Qeshm, Iran to Upper Bhagsu, India
Upper Bhagsu, India to Gopalganj, India
Gopalganj, India to Kathmandu, Nepal
What Was I Thinking? Revisited
My time in Kathmandu was dominated by an underlying theme of reflection; deep inner reflection through Vipassana meditation encouraged self analysis, and my time there inadvertently stimulated outward thought, through the people that I met; a series of chance meetings instigated outward reflection about how the journey was unfolding; following through on my intention to teach Yoga, and the passing of the landmark ‘one-year-on-the-road’, all culminated to cause much thought-induced furrowing of the brow.
A local Nepali photo-journalist and cyclist, Usha, was volunteering at the Vipassana office and introduced herself before taking some photo’s. We met up after the course and Usha took me to meet a number of cycle shop owners and introduced me to Sonam, Nepal’s most famous Cyclist. Usha dedicates most of her time to volunteering and was keen to get me involved during my time in Kathmandu. We discussed a number of different initiatives and later in the week Usha introduced me to some of the other people involved. It was very absorbing to learn about the challenges people face in Nepal, and about how people like Usha are selflessly finding solutions to improve the lives of others.
A few days later I randomly bumped into Chad, one of the students from Vipassana. Chad was travelling for three months before returning to complete an MBA at Harvard Business School, and had just returned from a trip to Tibet. It was great to talk in more depth about our experiences during and after Vipassana, and, to enjoy a night out on the town.
A week later Chad invited me to dinner with a group of Nepali girls he had met – what a top chap! The girls were in Kathmandu to apply for visa’s to study in Ireland and invited us back to their temporary home for dinner. It was a beautiful and slightly surreal evening spent first learning how to make Momos, little pasta-like pockets filled with vegetables and spices (think: Chinese dumplings), then eating the fruits of our labour. The girls were so warm, welcoming and friendly it was like we had known each other for years. We went out together a few more times before Chad headed off to India.
Those experiences made me reflect on the importance of getting out and making friends with the locals.
Chad also introduced me to a couple of friends of his, Mike and Justin, who produce a pod-cast for backpackers called Walking The Earth. To cut a long story short, they invited me on to talk about my journey round the world by bicycle. We got on really well and had an interesting chat about the joys and challenges of long term travel, getting out of your comfort zone, holding yourself accountable (or not), cyclehacking, and things to do before you kick the bucket. You can listen to the full conversation here: Walking The Earth Episode #34
Mike and Justin asked some probing questions very pertinent to the reflective nature of my stay in Kathmandu.
My plan for Nepal, although ultimately flawed, was always to find Yoga studios or retreats that would allow me to get involved in classes; assisting and possibly teaching. I visited an ashram in Matatirtha to discuss the options with the owner to no avail.
I also visited Pranamaya Yoga on my return to Kathmandu for a class, followed by a meeting to find out if I could get involved. Annie, one of the owners, very kindly gave me the opportunity to assist and adjust students that evening in her Ashtanga class at their studio in Patan. It was an invaluable experience which opened my eyes to the cold, hard realities I faced as a newbie teacher. The class was packed with students of varying ability, most of which distinctly more able than I. It was daunting to say the least, and although I settled in to perform the yoga adjusting equivalent of doggy paddling, I was clearly way out of my depth.
Annie was so kind and encouraging afterwards and spent some time coaching me on various adjustments that I could look for in future lessons. However, the experience really drilled home just how much I still have to learn before I will able to teach Yoga competently.
The romantic notion of being a travelling Yoga teacher has been a valuable and fabulously enjoyable journey so far. The next step on that long road is to deepen my knowledge and understanding through self-practice, as I travel.
And then there was the nostalgic cycle back down memory lane. Re-reading the first blog written from the road this time last year; What Was I Thinking? Was as relevant now as it was back then. The decision to leave everything behind and cycle the globe was no longer in question. However, doubts over how I have spent my first year on the road have caused the same question to surface. Mainly because I have spent more of the year stationary than I have cycling!
With the world as your oyster the options available on a daily basis are vast, yet the natural disposition of the human condition: to create comfort and routine, prevails. Could I have done more? Seen more? Met more people? Spent less money? Raised more money? Attracted more visitors to this blog?
Absolutely: In hindsight we can always do better.
The difference between this year and the years preceding was a reversal of the compression of time that happens as we get older.
As children a year seemed like an eternity, a month passed quickly, yet looking back the first day felt like it happened three months ago because each week filled with new experiences challenged our status quo. Occasionally, we looked back at who we once were from who we had become and excitement bubbled in our blood; we knew something within had changed irreversibly, we had grown, we had new skills and abilities that only last week appeared to be out of reach. We wondered what we would be able to do next week, next month, next year. We wondered what we would be able to do tomorrow.
Our perception of time distorts when we stop learning new skills or when our routine becomes too, well, routine. Time appears to speed up as we get older not because as adults we have a more complete understanding of time, but because as children we experienced more from the same increments of time. As children, every day was full of new experiences, as adults, every day can become full of the same experiences; as we look back one week resembles the next and time appears to compress. As children we spent most of our time absorbed in the present moment, as adults we spend most of our time thinking about what we did in the past or about what we could be doing in the future; Rarely do we fully appreciate and become totally absorbed in the now.
Stopping to write a book, and to learn Yoga and meditation, have paradoxically absorbed precious time and resources while teaching me that to slow down the passing of time, we need to live in the present moment and continue to learn new skills and expose ourselves to challenging experiences. I’m not sure what I was thinking. What I have learnt though from my first year on the road is that to expand our lives we don’t need to live longer, we need need to live fuller.
The original goals to physically cycle around the world, learn about the world around me and within me, and contribute to others by raising money to build a new school with Room to Read, are more important to me now than ever before.
Armed with the knowledge gleamed from the first year on the road this year promises to yield a bounty of time expanding experiences.
The fund raising total now stands at a tremendous £3612 (including gift aid), pretty much ten pounds for every day on the road. To everyone who has donated so far – Thank You! For those who haven’t yet, please do. Your contribution, big or small, will change the destiny of hundreds of children each year.
The time for reflection is over; south east Nepal, India, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Vietnam are calling……. Or is that just the monsoon rain.