First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price
Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India
Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching
Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski
Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.


I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.
Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

Join Mary and Escape to the Best Island in the World, Relax, Recharge, learn yoga and photography on Kauai, in a private luxury 3-day retreat, fall asleep to ocean waves at the Islander Resort, and explore the power places of Kauai, for one or two participants.

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Where In the World Should We Go?

b87e7c8a226a650e02b516282128c80cWhen it comes to where we want to travel in the future, Brett and I are still partially in the “dream” phase. I say partially because we know we want to spend more than half the year here on Kaua’i, and we know we want to spend three months in Japan every year. It’s those remaining two or so months out of every year that we’re still dreaming about.

We would like to spend up to two months every fall traveling and living in another area of the world. We would ideally stay in one place for a month, and then move to a second city or area for a second month. Four weeks in one place would give us opportunities to more fully explore our surroundings and allow us to experience the culture a bit more deeply.

Staying in one place for month will also be more affordable. The nightly cost for an Airbnb or VRBO rental drops considerably when booked for a month versus renting for just a few days or a week. And, staying longer will mean less eating out and will help curb other expenses such as more frequent travel between locations. But, we are open to travel that might have shorter stays or require some driving.

So, where in the world should we go?

This is the list we have come up with so far, in no particular order.

  • Rome/Florence/Cinque Terre
  • New Zealand (one month on the north island, one month in the south)
  • Barcelona/Lisbon
  • Prague/Vienna
  • Athens/Istanbul
  • Nostalgic west coast (one month in Seattle, visit Portland, then drive down to California – Yosemite NP and San Francisco – and finally back up to Seattle via the Oregon Coast)
  • Buenos Aires/Montevideo
  • Bath, England/County Cork, Ireland
  • Amsterdam/Copenhagen or Stockholm

Also, there are two other places I would love to see, but Brett is not as excited about them as I am:

  • India (We would definitely do a tour for this)
  • Botswana (same as above)

What do you think? Any other suggestions? Where do you think we should go first? Second? Third?

We need to eventually decide on three to start planning. If we get through three years of traveling, we will reevaluate our health and finances and go from there.

Where in the world do you think we should go?




The Idea (Wo)Man

21821228-spedizione-icone-idea-luce-composizione-forma-del-bulbo-vector-in-strati-di-facile-montaggioI’m to blame. I am the one who comes up with all these ideas for travel.

But that’s pretty much all I do on my own . . . come up with an idea. Then it’s tossed over to Brett to see what he thinks. And, if he likes the idea, from there on we work as a team.

Brett has only actually said “no” to me once in our marriage. He knows I’m just stubborn enough that if he said “no” to one of my ideas I would probably go ahead and figure out a way to do it anyway. Usually his answer to an idea that he’s not crazy about is something along the lines of “let’s think about it.” I know when I hear this that he doesn’t particularly care for the idea, and that he wants me to think about it some more and see if I’m actually serious or willing to commit myself. He knows that often when I do think it through a bit more thoroughly I’ll probably see that it’s really not such a good idea or not feasible. The idea gets dropped without any further discussion, argument or bad feelings.

If he does like an idea of mine or think it’s worth pursuing, he’ll throw back some question, or even start talking about it like it’s already been decided. I’ll never forget when I first brought up the idea of adoption. I heard about China adoptions one day from one of my college professors, but told her that while I could adopt without a second thought there was absolutely no way my husband would ever agree. Our son was 16, and both Brett and I were students and barely scraping by. That evening though I mentioned to Brett what I had heard about adopting from China, expecting to hear the familiar “let’s think about it.” Instead, he got a gleam in his eye and soon we were talking about what it would be like to add a child to our family. We started setting goals that evening, and a little over two years later, Brett had a good job, we had bought a house, and we had brought our first daughter home from China!

We were both intrigued by the story of the Senior Nomads, who have been traveling around Europe for the past two years, staying in Airbnb rentals. I read about them first, which got me dreaming, and then I got Brett to read the article about them in the New York Times and then some of their blog. When he finished I said I thought we could do something like that once our girls had all left the nest.

I was honestly surprised that his response wasn’t an immediate “no” or even “let’s think about it.” Brett started out by saying he didn’t want to leave Kaua’i, and I agreed. We love it here. We then started talking about how much we wanted to go to Japan and spend time with our son and his family. But we kept talking about traveling, places we wanted to see, what we could afford, and gradually we came up with our goal of spending three months in Japan and two months in Europe or elsewhere each year, with the rest of our time on Kaua’i.

Besides being the idea woman, I’m also the planner. Although we work together to firm up our goals, all the nuts and bolts (finances, lodging, airfare, etc.) of actually making things happen are up to me, which is fine because I thoroughly enjoy doing it and Brett doesn’t. I love doing all the research that comes ahead of traveling, of setting down that solid foundation that our travel experiences will be based on. As ideas pop up along the way I’ll throw them out to Brett though. I know one way or the other we’ll either start talking about the idea or I’ll hear, “let’s think about that.”

Being SMART with Our Goals

8d0a21fae760c7f50e09457ec11ae320It’s one thing to say “we want to travel” and something else entirely to figure out how we’re going to do that. So, I figure a good place for me to start out on this blog is to put down for the record our goals for the future. These are what Brett and I are going to be working toward over the next few months and years.

Brett and I use the SMART system when we set our goals. SMART stands for: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-focused, and Time-bound. Creating goals the SMART way is an extremely efficient way of making sure that we don’t come up with anything too nebulous, unattainable or downright crazy.

We currently have set both short- and long-term goals:

Short term:

  • Brett’s trip to Oregon and California: He will spend 10 days with his sister beginning in late September. They will meet in Portland, take our oldest daughter (Meiling) to college and get her settled in, and then he and his sister will drive down to Los Angeles where he will spend a few days before flying home. This trip is in the bag: plane tickets have been purchased and money set aside so all he needs to do now is go!
  • The Big Family Mystery Adventure: I can say no more about this other than I am about half-way there. I still need to save a bit more, and need to find some decent air fares, but otherwise everything is in place for a fabulous family vacation next spring!
  • Getting our middle daughter (WenYu) off to college: This will happen in the fall of 2016. We can’t start any planning until we know which college she will be attending, and we won’t know that until next spring. We are still thinking about it quite a bit though. I will most likely be traveling with her to help her get settled in wherever she goes. We are already working though on having enough Hawaiian Airlines frequent flyer miles to get her where ever she goes and home for the holidays at no cost.

Long term goals:

  • Take our youngest daughter (YaYu) to college in the fall of 2018 and get her settled in.
  • Spend three months every spring in Japan, living near our son and his family, beginning in 2019. Ninety days within a 365 day period is the maximum time we can stay in Japan without a visa (which is very difficult to get) and we want to live there the entire three months.
  • Spend two months every fall somewhere in the world beginning in the fall of 2018. We will either stay in one place for the entire time, or split our time between two locations.

While we’re not exactly at the starting point, we’re still very much at the beginning of things, currently trying to firm up how much we are going to need to save and how we will accomplish that without disrupting our budget. All of this travel will be paid for in cash – NO credit cards. Each one of the goals meets the SMART standard though, so we already know how long we have and a fairly good idea what we need to do to get to the finish line. We know there will be bumps and stalls and surprises along the way, but hopefully things will start falling into place and keep moving along.

Here we go!