Living in Paradise
(continued…) Coming over the hill with my backpack, I spotted the hippy beach bums on one side of the cliff and new I was heading in the right direction. Jumping down the cliffs eagerly, I arrived at the beach. Sprinkled with palm trees, and surrounded by cliffs laid the in cove of Paradise Beach. How to describe this place? First of all, there were hammocks spread across the palm trees of the beach. People swimming.
“Raleigh!” Sitting at a long stone picnic table, finishing a Thali (plate of food) and chai, my friend Lukas jumped up waving at me. 3 or 4 people sat at the table with him. Lukas hugged me warmly and paid 70 rupees for his Thali, “You made it! Did you just get here this morning?” Lukas wasn’t wearing a shirt and his hair was still wet from swimming. I told him how I’d spent the night with a family along the way, and he showed me to camp or better yet, his one hammock with his backpack leaning against the tree next to it.
“Do you have stuff to camp with?” He asked.
“Uh no.” I said. I didn’t even have a jacket.
Everything turned out to be more than okay. The warm water was wonderful. The waves were mellow, and somehow this place seemed to attract the crowd of the most interesting people! My friend even had an extra hammock. Also someone hooked me up with a sweater and socks to sleep in. There was a group of people from London camped next to us, a few fellows from Russia, I met a Sweedish friend, and importantly, we had three chess sets among the ‘residents’ here. Day by day, the desire to keep moving kept dwindling, and the desire to stay built. I had set up my slackline as a semi-perminant prim rig. I watched people improve day by day.
There was a bus to town, where we could get groceries and fresh fruit when we were feeling even more economical than the 70 rupees Thalis ($1.05) and 10 rupees chais ($0.15).
I won’t even start about the bioluminesense here or the singing potlucks or the detail to which some people built their camps! But I will tell you, it was beautiful, and I could have stayed forever. But I will tell you about the first night of Shivratri. So I happened to be here (8 days into camping on the beach) during a festival. It’s a very important Shiva festival, and here, Gokarna, is a main pilgrimage spot for Indians all over the country.
I was walking in town and ran into a boy from the beach. He was wearing only a white skirt wrapped around his legs, and handed me a flyer.
“6 pm to 6 am meditation and chanting for Shivratri at the Ashrum in town. You should come.” Why not. Haha, when else would I get that opportunity?
Later that evening I arrived. I got to the outside of the Ashram around 7 pm, and looked over the gate to see about 70 poised people sitting in the grass cross legged chanting in Sanskrit. I tentatively pushed open the gate and tiptoed in, took off my shoes, and joined them. Having no intention of not returning to the beach, I had nothing with me except a dead phone, a book, a hat, and a wallet.
The night was interesting! You know, normally, I’d see a 12 hour meditation, and think, oh god. That sounds intense. Or if I was out, would have trouble just going without having anything with me. But the joy of experiencing things and my curiosity overpowered those emotions. I also saw it a bit as a challenge, and that made me intrigued. The ceremony was a mix of chanting, dancing, silent meditation, breaks, snacks, and overall I really liked it. Don’t get me wrong- I did not last all twelve hours. I was perfectly fine meditating (or so I thought) when suddenly I was shaken awake from a dream by one of the Ashram volunteers.
“Oh sorry!” I said jumping up! I had completely passed out and my body was just limp on the group in between all the other people who just politely had continued with the ceremony around me.
“No, no, no! Don’t worry! We have beds inside for guests tonight, can I show you to one?” She said kindly. That surprised me. I thought I would have no choice once I was here but to persevere. But to be honest, it was nice that I didn’t have to.
I woke up again at 5 am, just to participate in the end of the ceremony. Dreary eyed I walked out to the main room where people were dancing to the chants. It was a choreographed dance with like 5 or 6 moves, that even I had learned. There was now only the true devotees standing. It was a nun, the Indian guru that was a guest speaker/leader tonight, the guitar player, and a few others. I joined in.
A few hours passed and the sun rose. With a dead phone and far from Gokarna, let alone paradise beach, I wandered onto the road and started walking home. I was sure I would find the way. There’s people to ask right? But I was glad to see a rickshaw pull over on the side of the road, with two others from the Ashram. In the rickshaw were two Indian men, one was the owner of the Ashram and the other was the guest speaker. They invited me in warmly, and refused to let me pay once we arrived in Gokarna.
I went to the bus stand and inquired about Belikan beach, but there were still a few hours until the next bus. Well, that day was a festival so I began wandering until I ran into the guest speaker from the Ashram again, Aji while I was petting a cow. When I agreed to have tea with him, little did I know the journey that was to come…