Kiki Shakti arrives on the Mother Continent.
Somehow, I have managed to book just about every flight of my travels so far at the crack of dawn, or before. So, I left the sleeping Pappy at the hotel in Perth at 4AM and made it to the airport just in time for my heavily delayed flight (also a trend, so far, on this trip — I get there before dawn, then the flight doesn’t leave for another hour or two after its scheduled departure). Only six hours prior to that, after drinking a few Chimays at the Belgian Beer Bar (literally, the name of the place) across the street from the hotel, I had developed a bit of a depression about leaving him and Australia. I’m going to miss that place (and my friend) and will definitely have to visit again!
I had a nice long layover at the airport in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia. It was there that I realized, “Whoa! I’m going to (and am now in) Asia.” I had some noodles and bought some duty-free cigarettes and hung out until it was time to get on the Longest Flight Ever to New Delhi. I sat in the middle of the middle: literally in the middle of the plane, in between two not-small dudes, nowhere near a window.
Upon arrival in New Delhi the captain said, “The time is 10:08 pm and the weather is Smokey.”
You know you’re in New Delhi when the weather forecast is for “Smoke.” I could immediately smell the pollution as we landed. I went through Customs and waited for my bag for what seemed like forever. Then, I exited the airport at the left exit, which is where my mom said she would meet me.
She wasn’t there. After 10 or 15 minutes, I had a moment where I imagined all sorts of horrible scenarios of car accidents and mortal injury and death and I’m stuck in India with no phone and no where to go and have to deal with funerals and shit… That moment passed really quickly, thank God! I asked a random stranger if I could use his phone and he asked me if it was a local number. I had to think for a minute, but I realized from a previous conversation: yeah, my mom’s phone number is a New Delhi phone number. I called her and she was just arriving. It was two days before Diwali, of course traffic was crazed!
So, I’m back in India after 24 years. I came here when I was 13 years old, in 1992, and it was certainly a life changing experience. India is insane. Let’s be straight. Very few Americans would be able to drive a car in India. Traffic in New Delhi is… and, there’s the cow in the road. I’ve been here for 10 minutes. I don’t think we’re actually out of the airport yet. The streets are filled with all types of vehicles from bull-driven carts laden with all sorts of things to Audi SUVs, big Tata trucks and bicycle rickshaws to motorcycles and little scooties used as a vehicle for a family of five.
My mom, and her friend, Bhuwan Chandra, came to get me at the airport and we went directly her friend Aarti’s house in Punjabi Bagh. The following day, Bhuwan and I went to buy his little cousin a guitar. We took the Metro, which is really quite nice: clean and easy to navigate. It was fun to explore Delhi for the first time as an adult.
India. It’s like Burning Man, or really good soft blue cheese with prosciutto and crackers. I could try to explain it to you, but you really just have to experience it for yourself. The smells range from Delhi smoke to dung fire smoke, from diesel exhaust and piss to Rose and Nag Champa, from trash and sewage to curry and ghee.
I remember this feeling from 24 years ago: I can’t get out of Delhi fast enough. Let’s go to the hills!
Kainchi Dham is about 7 hours (+/-a few hours) from New Delhi. We drove through the dusty plain and into the jungle, horn blaring while whipping around hairpin curves, monkeys scattering the cliffside roads as we climbed into the foothills of the Himalayas (so what they call “hills” are at about the same elevation as Taos, give or take).
Finally, we made it. My mom lives in Kainchi Dham where our guru, Neem Karoli Baba, has an ashram. She has a permanent room in a five-star hotel, the Suddha Amar Retreat. It’s beautiful and serene, and overlooks the steep valley. We arrived in Kainchi just in time for Diwali, the Festival of Lights: One of the major festivals of Hinduism, it spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.
On the morning of Diwali I hiked a very steep trail with Bhagwan (the manager of the hotel and a good friend of my mom’s and now of mine) up to the cave where Kessarnath Baba lives, bringing him gifts for Diwali and to receive his blessings. That afternoon, my mother and I walked down to the village to see my old friends, Champa and her sons, Girish and Naresh Tiwari (among many others). In the evening we did Diwali puja and then we went to the Ashram for darshan. Then it was time for patakis, fireworks. Diwali is a little bit like Christmas and New Year’s eve all rolled into one.
Twenty-four years is a long time, but not really. The last time I was in India, Girish and Naresh were both unmarried young guys. Girish got married about a month after I left in 1992 and now has three beautiful daughters and a wonderful son. And, Naresh is married with a sweet, maybe mischievous son and a fabulous daughter who looks just like him. Kainchi is a small village, but it is much more built up than it was in 1992. Girish’s chai shop has been completely remodeled and is much bigger than it was. They’ve built a restaurant and big huge house where their old house was. It’s totally different, but still it’s the same. Kiran Kandpal, who was my Indian BFF in 1992 despite our language barrier, also came to meet up with me. Reconnecting with my friends twenty-four years later, we are all grown up, but we are still the same. The connection remains.
People have asked me what has changed in India in the twenty-four years since I was last here. I would say: nothing and everything. There is still a massive disparity between the rich and the poor, incredible opulence next to abject poverty, but I do notice way fewer beggars in the street. Overall, it seems like India is doing better financially with a growing middle class. There is a metro in Delhi which was not there in 1992. There are a lot more cars than there used to be. And, almost everybody has a cell phone now.
Originally, I was planning on being in India for about a month, but that seems silly now that I’m here. So many places to see and I’m really enjoying hanging out with my mom. I think I’ll stay here through February and then make my way to Europe. So, in the meantime, I’ll let you know about all the different places in India that I go to. Cheers!
Editor’s note: Most of Kiki’s pics are taken on her phone, many are arriving upside down and although I correct them prior to posting, I notice on phones, they remain inverted. You have to turn your phone to view them!
Photographs c/o Kristina Siebenaler aka Kiki Shakti
Photograph of Kiki’s mother, Yvette (Ram Rani) Rosser, lifted from her Facebook page. Ram Rani is a Vedic and Sanskrit scholar who has lived in India on and off since the ’60’s. She is one of the founding members of the Neem Karoli Baba Ashram here in Taos.