Travel Toes

To travel is to live.

What is Auroville?

FeaturedWhat is Auroville?

What is Auroville? I get asked this question a lot based on the occasional photographs I share. And I thought I’d share a little about my perspective on this today though it would merely be like a footnote in a large book.

‘Auroville wants to be a universal town where men and women of all countries are able to live in peace and progressive harmony above all creeds, all politics and all nationalities. The purpose of Auroville is to realise human unity.’

– Courtesy


A few kilometres from the sunny and colourful little coastal town of Pondicherry in Southern India is a universal city.

It is not a holiday destination or merely a pretty location with gorgeous guest houses and handmade products. It’s not just an eclectic mix of cultures, architecture, expression and projects. For those who have the yearning, Auroville is an opportunity to connect with something deeper and more lasting. To contribute, to connect, to invest in one’s own consciousness and be able to touch lives around, initially through the guise of “volunteer work” but then through more means that one can uncover. Even though I do not live there, I believe many of us connect to that energy that awakens, guides, humbles and evokes a deeper quest. And we act as channels for others. For as Rumi said,

“What you seek is seeking you.”


And this is true of every time I am there. From chance encounters with friends from across the world whom we spent an evening with 3 years ago and who taught us that age is only a mental concept to running into role models who’ve shaped entire communities. It’s pure synchronicity.

So, I would recommend not going there just to take a break, enjoy good food and pleasant landscapes but to peel away the mundane and superficial, to try and connect with the community, seek ways to contribute and understand oneself a little better. That is something we need to do wherever we are in the world today. And so, for me Auroville is a reminder of my best self, a reference point if you will and a time in my life when I was the happiest with nothing to call my own but what I could offer to others and learn about myself. It is a reminder of the long road ahead and of how much more there is to do and to be, every day. Somehow, it is home.

For more information, visit the link inlclufe above. A few pictures from my journeys into this world can be found at:


An arrow a day.


Image credits: Pinterest


What is this about?: It’s a personal narrative of working with symbols to connect with the mysteries of the universe and the unending quest to find balance in the simplest of everyday actions.

Why am I writing about this?: I have been feeling a strong urge to let these words tumble out of the cage of my skull onto a screen and have them placed out there for anyone else who is able to connect to this experience and can share the joy of this process. We have so much to learn from the ancients and this article talks about one such serendipitous find.

I also promised myself that I would express more often without criticizing the style of my own writing or worrying too much about the form. The meaning is more essential.

So here goes.

The story

Last year, on a cold and grey morning in Wisconsin, my friend and I got into the car for the long journey back to Minneapolis. It was something we were looking forward to because the quiet of the road coupled with the duration of the journey would give us plenty of space to catch up on life’s goings-on.


Halfway through that drive, the conversation took a turn toward working with symbols as a means to connect with the essence of how life moves, unfolds and breathes. The form we discussed at length was that of an Arrow: a single arrow as an analogy for everything from seeking direction to working with the power of thought. The potential, the purpose and the meaning of an arrow. Our discussion, unbeknownst to us at the time, gave us a subconscious approach to working with our goals for the coming year and being better prepared to aim for them. As my teachers would put it, it set the foundation for us to work with spirit and matter.

As the Fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.

– The Buddha

A year later, as I scrolled through Facebook one evening sipping on some tea to ward off the wintry chill, I received a notification that I had been tagged by a friend in a post with a link to a video. I opened the link to watch a 44 minute episode on Kyūdō: an extremely simple yet powerful form of Japanese martial arts through the eyes of a Westerner, courtesy Japanese TV NHK (which I love by the way). The friend who had tagged me is someone I consider to be a soul sister, someone who engages on exactly the same vibrations and thought patterns as I do and has journeyed with me on several introspective moments into the mysteries of life, having also been a former batch mate in philosophy school. And so, I considered this to be another one of her perfectly timed gifts from across the world as a reminder of that very symbol I had begun working with.

Before this day, I had never come across the concept of Kyūdō and once I did, I found so much beauty, meaning and power in this that I felt compelled to share it further.

What is Kyūdō?

A little background here. Kyūdō, which literally means The Way of the Bow, is considered by many to be the purest of all the martial ways. In the past, the Japanese bow was used for hunting, war, court ceremonies, games, and contests of skill. The original word for Japanese archery was Kyujutsu (bow technique) which encompassed the skills and techniques of the warrior archer. Some of the ancient schools, known as ryu, survive today, along with the ancient ceremonies and games, but the days where the Japanese bow was used as a weapon are long past. Modern Kyūdō is practiced primarily as a method of physical, moral, and spiritual development.


Image credits


The essence of modern Kyūdō is said to be synonymous with the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.

  • Truth in Kyūdō is manifested in shooting that is pure and right-minded, where the three elements of attitude, movement, and technique unite in a state of perfect harmony. A true shot in Kyūdō is not just one that hits the center of the target, but one where the arrow can be said to exist in the target before its release.
  • Goodness encompasses such qualities as courtesy, compassion, morality, and non-aggression. In Kyūdō, goodness is shown by displaying proper attitude and behavior in all situations. A good Kyūdō archer is a person who maintains his or her composure and grace even in times of great stress or conflict.
  • Beauty both enhances life and stimulates the spirit. In Kyūdō, truth and goodness, themselves, are considered beautiful. Beauty can also be found in the exquisite grace and artistry of the Japanese bow and the elegance of the traditional archer’s attire. It is also present in the refined etiquette that surrounds the Kyūdō ceremony. Etiquette, which is simply common courtesy and respect for others, is an essential element of Kyūdō practice.

To one who comes across this concept, what was most striking yet very unsurprisingly Zen was the fact that the sole purpose of Kyūdō is not to hit the target but to achieve Mushin: a perfectly calm and balanced state of mind, of being. The video uncovered how masters of this art took several decades to achieve this state of mind, right at that moment before the bow left the arrow. It also showed the Hassetsu, the eight fundamental stages of shooting.

How does all this translate to working with everyday life? My take.

Coming back to my original story of working with symbols, over the past year I have been trying hard to work with the essential nature of a bow and arrow to how I can find balance, composure and calm amidst the shackles of the daily.

Simply put, if each thought is equated with an arrow, it means that the archer holds both the power to point it in a given direction as well as apply the desired amount of force and technique to shoot it, while doing so with grace.

This often brings me to evaluate my arrows from time to time. It leads to me asking myself a series of questions and investigating my own behavior, my own habits and tendencies.

  • Do I understand that the bow and arrow are a way of life and in that sense much larger than me?
  • How can I one with the arrow I hold?
  • Am I shooting the right arrows?
  • How can I keep it simple and straight?
  • What is the direction that I need to aim at?
  • Am I working with the right tools to use my bow and arrow better?
  • Am I focusing more on shooting the target than achieving a more balanced state of mind?
  • Does my lack of consciousness in a given moment lead to arrows being shot that do me no good?
  • Are my arrows shot more out of a personal necessity than in being of service to the universe for greater good?
  • On a given day, in any given moment, how much of Mushin can I bring myself to be in?
  • What makes my arrow falter/stumble and how can I be aware of this to work with it better? I feel this one in particular is both powerful and painful because it reveals the amount of work I need to do in making myself a better archer.
  • How does the shooting of the arrow affect other aspects of my life: amount of patience, clarity of thought, kindness in word and deed, setting the right level of expectations from myself and others, enabling me to better than who I was yesterday and most importantly not falling into the same traps of my personality over and over again.
  • How can I translate each step of the physical act of Hassetsu into an equivalent step for work with the inner self on a daily basis?
  • And lastly, how can I keep reminding myself about the the Way of the Bow every single day in both moments of calm and chaos?



In writing this article, I felt like Kyūdō is a great microcosm to represent any action in life: from waking up to a new day with courage and enthusiasm to being mindful of every sentence and deed as the day unfolds. It is as deep as the oceans and yet as simple as that one principle it boils down to. The effort is precisely because of that sheer simplicity which our complex minds cannot fathom easily.

We often fall into the traps of our own desires, fears and habits and the simplest tasks of routine when repeated a thousand fold can seem painful. Personally, I hope to not just understand Kyūdō better but to be it (which may take multiple lifetimes!) even in the most daily things like watering a plant or cleaning the house. For after all, that is the beauty and simplicity of Zen in that it is not something out there, but something within that is simple yet sublime perfected with a single task repeated a thousand fold.

I hope you find an inkling of calm wherever you are, as you read this and in that moment we create a Kyūdō connection across time and space. Sayōnara!


Nepal Diaries

Heaven is a myth, Nepal is real.



Nepal. A land sheltered by mountains as vast as the sky itself. A land of prayer, poetry and simplicity. A land that welcomes thousands of eager trekkers, climbers, artists, photographers, musicians and tourists every single year knowing fully well that one glimpse of the Himalayas can inspire word, form and thought like nothing else can.

We just got back from a short yet beautiful trip to Nepal. This is a sliver of our journey across landscapes: from the grey noise of Kathmandu, the rustic browns of Bhaktapur to the white glory of Sarangkot and the orange depths of a Nagarkot sunset.

I’m curious to know if you would also like information on our itinerary. On what we saw and experienced last month. On options for hostels, meals, transportation and trekking. Meanwhile, enjoy this brief compilation shot on bumpy roads and eager footsteps, chasing gorgeous mountains with shaky fingers in a land that is as old as it is new.

FeaturedNot all travel is expensive.

Not all travel is expensive.

Very often people tell me that they think they cannot “spend” on travel because it costs too much. They tell me that they think I’m “lucky” to be able to travel. I understand that travel is much more than just cost, which is sadly the part that gets the most attention and questions. But it’s also about communication with loved ones, a disciplined calendar, about “being able to go away” or finding time for oneself. More importantly, it’s about purpose.
What are you travelling for? What do you seek?
The idea that travel is only about spending money is a misconception. Travel, like anything else in life, is a priority to some of us. If you’re passionate about it and you believe in the essence rather than the forms, you will find a way to make it happen. To plan ahead, to cut corners, to save from every pay cheque, to re-align other aspects of daily life and choose who you choose to travel with.
Because travel is about finding yourself, about keeping it simple. It’s about connecting to how others live elsewhere and not doing the same things you do when you’re at home. It’s a conscious effort to peel away what’s unnecessary to find what really matters.
Of course, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with splurging on a holiday or living it up on a trip someplace. But it’s good to remember that not everyone thinks of “travel” the same way and that just like everything else, if you really want to, you will find a way to travel on a budget. To start with, here are some ground rules that I follow when it comes to any journey: let’s say this is for an international trip, given the sheer number of people asking me how I manage one every year.
I’ve also been working on putting up my itinerary for Vietnam for those of you who asked. I should have it ready soon (note to self!). If you would like to read more about the different aspects of travel and budget backpacking, here are some of my favorite bloggers/sites:



I think this quote by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is the best way to end this note, because his work is just like real travel: you can find as much magic in it as you look for. It stands for something much deeper than the physical aspect of packing.
Safe travels and inner journeys to you all!

He who would travel happily must travel light.

Vietnam Sketches

FeaturedVietnam Sketches

Every time I return from a trip, I have with me a pile of photographs: a mixture of specific moments, landscapes, emotions and cultural nuances. A flag somewhere, a local delicacy on a plate in the corner of a photograph, a frame of another frame and more.

One of the things I enjoy doing with these photographs is to doodle over them and extract specific characters who form the crux of those moments. Something about them that makes the photograph stage for that character to unfold.

Here is a series starting with 3 such characters from my backpacking trip across some towns in Vietnam last year. An effort to represent the flavour and the feel of the local culture. I plan to turn this into a full pack of cards that comprises of unique stories: one detail at a time.







5 ways Travel is the best teacher


A lot has been said about the charm of an unfamiliar landscape, the thrill of setting out on an airplane or train with a ticket to someplace new and the power of a pristine forest to pump pure energy into your veins when you walk through it.

This article is not about any of that. This is about the tough reality that travel makes one deal with, the challenges it provides and the mirrors it holds to the traveller’s face. This article is about the less glamourous, more integral parts of travel which over time sculpt you into being who you are.


  • Travel hacks away at indecisiveness
    • Carpe Diem. Just as the the rule of the jungle is the survival of the fittest (that of the city too for very obvious reasons today), the rule of travel is survival of one who can make quick decisions, seize the moment and not dally. Plan ahead or pay through your nose, go for the safari or wait for someone to hand you a review first, eat and enjoy whatever little is available or wait many hours for the comfort of something that you are “used to eating at home”, get onto that train or wait for the next one that may not arrive. All are decisions.
    • Any journey or trip is composed of many smaller moments, each of which involve a certain amount of instinct and skill. There is no right and wrong to this, but clearly, if one takes the easy way out for lack of enthusiasm or loses the moment to procrastination, the cheaper flight option is gone, the gorgeous waterfall at the end of the difficult trek remains a secret and the possibilities of all that could be packed into a day are lost.


  • Travel tests your strongest fears
    • Ever missed a train in a new country where you don’t know the language and have no money on you? Ever landed in a bus stop at 4am in complete darkness and been stared at by a hundred strange men? Ever eaten a prawn by mistake and succumbed to a mild allergy attack when there is no first aid nearby? These are minuscule tests compared to what a lot of unfortunate people face in the world on a daily basis: those whose survival is threatened by terrorism or violence, those who eat the last morsel fearing they may not get the next one for many days, those who are challenged in society because of their ethnicity, sex, opinion or profession.
    • Every time you encounter something “scary” on a trip or are faced with uncertainty, it tests who you really are inside and your ability to remain calm to take the right path out of that mess, telling yourself that the world knows much worse and that there is always hope in different forms.


  • There is no substitute for discipline
    • Anyone who loves the pursuit of journeying knows fully well the rigor and planning that are involved in pulling off a good trip. Even if you are the kind that takes-things-as-they-come and does not plan ahead too much, you would know the value of saving from each pay cheque, making a conscious effort to splurge less and holding on to that dream relentlessly to be able to bring it to life. Travel brings a shade of discipline into the one who seeks to make it their own, a shade that combines ardent desire with devoted effort to outdo all the questions and challenges that routine is plagued with.


  • Dealing with solitude
    • If you enjoy solo travel as much as I do, you would know that deep seated calm that comes with eating alone in a restaurant in someplace new, with time to gather your thoughts and just observe the moment without worrying about onlookers or the clamour of your own thoughts.
    • Often in travel, even if you are with people, there will come a moment when the majesty of a mountain or the stormy sea will suddenly bring to the surface some emotion in you that you never knew existed. And in that moment, you have the choice to understand that feeling or to hide from it. In that moment, it is just you with yourself.


  • Travel makes you hopeful
    • This is the final and most essential learning for me from travel. Whatever stage of life I am in, whatever I am going through, whatever my failures and my scars are and whatever I need to go through, there will always be a journey waiting for me if I have the passion and the dedication to make it happen. However difficult work may be, thinking of that trip months ahead makes it all worth it. Travel, in a strange sense, provides that sense of balance and constancy amidst all the variables in the fabric of today’s complex living. And that is what is beautiful about it.


Each one of us has something eternal that we uncover and associate with travel, with journeys and with making new memories. It is something we all share, however much or little we travel. And in replicating on a smaller scale the phenomenon of the journey of life itself, travel teaches us all little secrets that make the bigger picture more awe inspiring. I leave you with this beautiful quote by Lawrence Durrell:

“Travel can be one of the most rewarding forms of introspection.”



Japan – Itinerary

Some years ago I made a resolution on a New Year’s night, sitting in a train in Germany, that I would make it a point to travel to one new country each year. For someone who is obsessed with new places, new cultures and stories across landscapes this was a good way to stay motivated in what I do everyday. To give myself something to aspire to, something to work towards. And so it became a habit: to dream, to pick a country, to plan, to save up, to book, to budget, to document, to read, to ask around, to go and to return to share the experience through Facebook, blog posts here and reviews onTripAdvisor or albums on Flickr.

While most of my local travel is often unplanned, I rely on planning for international travel since it has taught me a lot about the nuances of smart travel, how to keep it basic, how to be a traveller more than a tourist and most of all the ability to spread out the budget across years to be able to see more.

This is one such share in answer to the countless questions I have been asked post my recent trip to Japan. After receiving messages every other day I decided that it would be easier to blog about how the details fell into place. There are hundreds of blogs out there by regular travellers. I’d encourage you to read, understand, mix-and-match and make your own decisions (a portion of the adrenalin rush of travel lies in the planning!).

My checklist for the basics (websites / apps):

  1. Flights:
  2. Hostels: , ,
  3. Reviews (others’ and my own): (am listed as ‘nam_gypseagal’)
  4. Country itineraries: From blogs and country-wise guides

I wish you more travel (but most of all more of whatever it is that you find true happiness!


Japan schedule

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