Crazy Kathmandu – with a capital K

Nepal thus far has the strangest history I have yet to come across.

20121109-193844.jpgBuddha eyes

In 2001 the heir to the Nepal Royal throne, Prince Dipendra, massacred 9 members of his family at the Narayanhity Royal Palace. The victim list included the then King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya (his parents), who reportedly had chosen a wife for Prince Dipendra who he did not want.

Shortly after the massacre, Dipendra shot himself and died a few days later. This left the throne to Nepal open, and thus Prince Gyanendra, brother of the late King Birendra, became king. There are many conspiracy theories as to what actually happened the night of the massacre – and I love a good conspiracy theory.

While doing some research on Prince Gyanendra I found some more crazy history. After his birth, his father was told by a court astrologer not to look at his newborn son because it would bring him bad luck, so Gyanendra was sent to live with his grandmother. He would later reign as King twice in the Nepali history.

His first reign occurred in 1950-1951, during a political plot, which saw both his father and his grandfather King Tribhuvan (amoungst other royals) flee to India. This left the young Prince Gyanendra (age 3) as the only male member of the royal family in Nepal. He was brought back to the capital Kathmandu by the then Prime Minister, Mohan Shamsher, and declared King. Once political stability had been regained in Nepal, his grandfather returned and resumed the throne.

I found the Nepalis history intriguing. After spending 3 months in India, the country north of the Indian boarder could not be anymore different.

Jumping forward from the past – Kathmandu now is a bigger city than you would think. Big, dusty and super busy. A place where face masks are more of a necessity than a fashion accessory. My buff had never come in more useful.

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From the moment I crossed the boarder, I knew that Nepal is vastly different to India. For one their person per capita is far less than that of India and it was awesome seeing the huge open rice paddies growing on the sides of the Himalayan mountain range.

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If you ever get to Kathmandu – do go visit the Green Organic Cafe in Thamel, Kathmandu. One of the best grilled tofu and veg dishes I have ever had. Nepal is not as geared for vegetarians as what India was – so it was lovely finding a great cafe, with not only an incredible vibe, but an awesome selection for vegetarians.

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More Nepal adventures to follow soon.

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Categories: Nepal | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

With sadness bye bye India

There are some things that I really don’t want to forget about India. For close to 3 months, I have called India home (albeit a temporary nomadic home, it was home nevertheless).

20121109-200339.jpgAmazing sunsets in Kerala

I thought I would put them in a blog post (more for me more than for you), but if you ever get to India these are a few random things you might see and do.

The first thing that struck me was the swastika symbol. Apparently Hitler had stolen it from India, and the original meaning behind it is really beautiful!

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Thanks Wikipedia: “It remains widely used in Indian religions, specifically in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, primarily as a tantric symbol to evoke shakti (meaning peace) or the sacred symbol of auspiciousness. The word “swastika” comes from the Sanskrit svastika – “su” meaning “good,” “asti” meaning “to be,” and “ka” as a suffix. The swastika literally means “to be good”. Or another translation can be made: “swa” is “higher self”, “asti” meaning “being”, and “ka” as a suffix, so the translation can be interpreted as “being with higher self”.”

Pity how such a beautiful begining was turned into such a horror.

Some things that I wont forget:
– Weird time differences – 3.5 hours different from home. I’ve never been to a zone which breaks the hour.

– Posting parcels home – where it takes you a whole day to get it done. Forget African time, India takes it to a whole new level. The parcel needs to be inspected by customs, weighed, then wrapped in white clothe, stitched closed and sealed with wax.

– Constant change problems. A Rs200 note would make all the difference to the current Rs 100, Rs500 and Rs1000 large notes.

– Amazingly sweet chai available everywhere. The best chai comes from street vendors who boil all ingredients right then and there in front of you.

Things I’ll be happy to forget:
– The dirt. There a literally no dirt-bins in India and locals throw plastic on the ground or simply burn heaps of plastic in the street. I wont even go into the affects of burning plastic on the environment, but after watching cows eat what had been thrown onto the ground, I am happy to be a vegetarian.

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– The spitting. At times you need to watch men and woman closely to ensure that you don’t get spat on. Its such a large part of their culture that there are ‘Spitting’ buckets in some parks (no bins, but spitting buckets?! Go figure).

– Every culture has a habit that is seen as common ground in one culture, yet rude in another. This applies to loud public burping and nasal clearing snorting, which alway seemed to happen while in a yoga or meditation class.

I know my three point above are me judging a culture. I may have brought them across as negatives here, but they did teach me a lot when it comes to accepting others and keeping an open mind while discovering my world.

Another little negative is the sale of semi precious stones in India. I met a Nepali jeweler who was trying to sell me semi-precious stones and after being ripped off in Varkala, I was hesitant. He laughed and said “I.N.D.I.A – I’ll Never Do It Again”, and with regards to precious stones or precious materials I dont actually have experience in – I think I’ll stick to my jeweler in South Africa for my jewellery needs from now on.

Having said that though… My 3 months spent in India were life changing.

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Remembering the first rickshaw driver that ripped me off, to the last one I took to leave India. How different my attitude was and how sweet and polite I was back then. Remembering how easy it is to get around India – trains, planes, buses and rickshaw rides that I will never forget.

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Remembering food – yummy yummy vegetarian food available EVERYWHERE and with such wide varieties – non of those one liners in menus – whole restaurants dedicated to vegetarians. From paratha’s in Kerala to banana lassis found everywhere – India is a culinary delight.

20121109-203217.jpgGranted momos are Tibetan – they still very yummy

20121109-204310.jpgMasala Dosa – traditional breakies

Remembering temples, statues of Shiva and Ganesh, holy rivers and sacred festivals.

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Remembering forts, palaces, holy elephants and army horses.

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Remembering colour, laughs, crazy yoga and train rides.

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Most of all – I never want to forget the amazing people I met along the way and finding awe-inspiring peace in McLeod Ganj

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Little travel tips:
– If a train is full you can buy a ‘Tatkal’ ticket (emergency ticket) from the train station on the day of travel;
– By telling local touts that this isn’t your first time in the country will mean that you’re less likely to be ripped off. I know this sounds strange – but I noticed how prices of things varied hugely just by answering the “First time in India?” with a NO;
– The price of ANYTHING (often including guesthouses) is a third of what they quote you. Local touts have the mentality that if you’re willing to pay first price, then you deserve to be ripped off;
– Do get to Rajasthan and see some incredible forts. Even if places seem to be out of the travelers way, it is well worth it

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Namaste
Xx

Categories: India | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Hilarious train rides

My very dearest friends, that I travelled to Cyprus with earlier this year, laughed at me when I speak to non-English speaking people. According to them, while speaking to Cypriots, I would put on a pseudo Russian accent and then speak like a social delinquent. Turns out in India, I would catch myself doing the same thing.

This realisation came during one of the funniest train rides I have had thus far in India. I was leaving Varanasi, my last stop during my India tour, and was heading to Nepal. Feeling all big-girl-panty traveller, it never occurred to me that it ain’t over until its over.

I had bought a first class sleeper ticket, because my choice was simply sleeper or a first class sleeper. The only difference between the 2 is that the first class sleeper meant 2 bunks in a closable compartment. Being a solo lady traveller I had decided to go the safer route. I guess it was also because the travel agent had filled me with the fear of god when it comes to men on this train.

My run in with Indian men has been 2 fold: on the one hand – I’ve made incredible new friends and on the other – some rural Indian men have scared me out of my wits. But the agent assured me that I would just need to contact the conductor when I boarded the train and he would pair me up with a female companion (it being illegal to place a strange man with a woman onboard a train). The only problem was that the train was PACKED, with me being not only the only foreigner on the train, but the ONLY female in first class.

To say that I was nervous and afraid of the man in my compartment is an understatement. I am not trying to scare you about solo traveling in India, and looking back I have had a very issue-free trip. Luckily for me, the conductor was a fantastic Indian man who checked in on me multiple times during the night (with an armored guard at one point).

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The train ride was to Gorakhpur, and from there the Nepal boarder was a 3 hour bus ride. I jumped onto a local bus, had my backpack thrown to the roof (along with chickens, goats and other people’s luggage) and set off on a very bumpy, dusty road to my exit to India.

I didn’t mind being stared at. I guess I had become used to it… But it was time to continue with the adventure… And with mixed feelings – I said good bye to India.

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HELLO NEPAL

Note to other travelers crossing the boarder by land – the visa fee is in US Dollars and you need a passport photo. Other than that – it was easy sailing!

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The crazy mad hectic… Um… Varanasi

It has taken me some time to put pen to paper about my time in Varanasi. I had saved the best for last in India, after hearing all sorts of crazy things about the holy city.

Varanasi is knows as the melting pot of India, where death and life come together in a strange mix of a dream world, which is neither a good dream or a nightmare. The old city is a mixture of very narrow streets, shops that fall out onto the narrow lanes and cows that line the already very tiny streets.

By the time I arrived in Varanasi, I was tired… Tired of all the pack up and go, tired of the constant fight to get to places I wanted to go, tired of the accommodation hassle (finding decent accommodation within our budget without have to batter for everything) and tired of capturing the essence that India is in a photograph. Thus I don’t have very many photos of Varanasi.

If you are a sensitive reader – I would advice not to read this section regarding the Burning Ghats.

I had always known that Varasani had Ghats (the term ghat refers to a series of steps leading down to a water body, usually a holy river). Manikarnika Ghat being one which is widely known for being a place of Hindu cremation, thus making Varanasi a sacred city for Hindus. But I honestly had no idea what I was in for.

Jovan and I arrived in Varanasi and before we could even settle into our hotel, the manager had us up and out of his door, taking us on a personal tour of the ghats. He choose a quieter route to get us down to the ghats, and what an adventure of narrow lanes, jumping across rubble and winding our way down very steep stairs to get there.

I was only too grateful for some comic relief en route when Jovan got chased by a water buffalo. I had thought that all animals in India were tame – but this one ran towards him like a bull does a matador in Spain. I know I shouldn’t laugh – but those who know me, know that in very tense inappropriate situations – I generally laugh, and this was one of those. Jovan spun on his heels, fleeing from the buffalo to hide behind the guide and myself. Lesson learnt: not all animals in India may be wild, but that doesn’t make them tame.

I felt privileged, in a weird way, to experience the burning ghat. Indian woman are not allowed in these areas, as the guide told us that they become overly emotional; crying, sobbing and generally causing an unpleasant environment for the spirit; which would make passing for the soul difficult. I do not agree with this explanation, and as a woman there are many ‘freedoms’ the West has given me, that I am more and more grateful for. The guide also said that another reason woman were not allowed at the ghats was the fear that a grieving wife or daughter might sati herself with the body of their loved ones (see sati posting). Now that is something I can understand.

Seeing the burning ghats left me feeling completely uneasy. When we arrived, 2 bodies were being cremated. The one was completely engulfed in beautiful silver looking flames. The second body was struggling to burn, with the body looking sandwiched (feet next to the head). It was a difficult thing to watch and as much as I tried to look away, I was drawn to the old man trying to stoke the fire so that the body would finally disintegrate. During the cremation the oldest or youngest son is charged with the responsibility of attending to the fire and ensuring the body is fully disintegrated. I asked why the middle son was not allowed to perform this duty – and if you know the answer, please let me know – as far as the guide knew it was due to superstitious reasons.

Our guide told us that the body is taken down to the holy Ganges and washed for a final time before the cremation occured. The body, wrapped in white linen is then put onto a bed of logs, which is lit from a 3000 year old flame that has never been put out. Once the spine has been burn, the body is snapped in half so to condense the fire and cremate the body quicker (thus our view of the head and feet together). The guide also mentioned the superstitions that accompany the cremations. If a person has lived a wholesome life, their body is said to cremate quickly. “If not… Then” and he pointed at the body which was taking its toll of the crematory fire.

The Manikarnika Ghat is a sacred holy ground where ‘Moksha’ can be obtained. In Indian religions moksha (meaning liberation or final release) is the final extrication of the soul from an earth bound body and thus bringing an end of repeated death and rebirth (reincarnation) cycle as an earthy being. It is an expensive process and not all Indians will have the privilege in this life time.

I found it interesting that there are 5 types of people who may not get burnt:
1. Children under a certain age because their souls are still pure so they do not need to get purified.
2. People suffering from smallpox and lepers
3. Pregnant women because they carry a new life in their body
4. People bitten by a cobra as they may come back to life (these bodies are sent down the river on floating boats with the hope that holy men (‘sadhu’s’) will bring them back to life. The snake bite victim will then spend the rest of their days indebted to the sadhu.
5. Holy men/priests/sadhus because their souls are already pure and they thus do not need the purification of cremation.

These bodies are put into the holy Ganges with a rock tied to them, and offered in that manner. At times dead babies have been seen floating down the river. These are called Shiva babies due to their blue blown up look (Shiva being the blue Hindu god).

Seeing the burning ghats made me appreciate life in a manner I cannot describe, but it also left a very uneasy feeling within my soul, and is something I would never want to witness again.

20121030-091105.jpgEvening prayers at the ghats

20121030-091344.jpgSunrise over the Ganges River

20121030-091429.jpgEarly morning bathing in the holy river

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20121030-091623.jpgTree growing on the top of a 4 story building – only in India

The Ghats

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The amazing Taj Mahal

En route to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, I had to stop off in Delhi. I was hoping to avoid this city at all costs, but alas buses only went to Delhi from McLeod Ganj and not all the way to Agra. Luckily for me, I sat next to a very young girl traveling by herself also and the saying ‘safety in numbers’ is not lost on me. We braved being dropped off in the middle of no where, fighting off rickshaw drivers all before the crack of dawn. She needing to get to the train station and me needing another bus.

After paying for an AC tourist bus, only to be pushed onto a local bus at the last minute (with the bus literally leaving so I couldn’t fight with the travel agent for misleading me). I was peeved, but tried to use my new ‘peaceful’ techniques from Vipassana trying to release what I could not change. Surprisingly it worked and the bus that I was on, turned out to be a Hindi Agra tour bus – so I got a full tour of Agra (all in Hindi and I was amazed by how much I understood). As I had become accustomed to in India – the foreigner becomes the attraction – so I had over a hundred photos with the locals on the bus at the Agra attractions.

20121022-201713.jpgMy tour group at the Agra Fort

The Agra Fort

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The story behind the Taj Mahal is beautiful and a little tragic.

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The history is that the Taj is a white marble mausoleum, built by the grief stricken Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Legend has it that Mumtaz was the love of his life, who accompanied Shah Jahan on all journeys. For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t): A mausoleum is an ‘external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons’ (thank you Wikipedia). Basically one massive tomb. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, after Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their 14th child.

What I found to be incredibly interesting is that the architects in the 17th century were so advanced that they built the 4 outer minarets with a slight outward tilt. This was done so that should an earthquake hit, none of the minarets would ever fall inwards, damaging the main dome.

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While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone (see the Agra Fort above and earlier post of pictures of forts), Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. These stones are really spectacular. I was lucky enough to see what happens to the stones when a torch light is shone on them at close range. Not only that, the sheer marble is breathtaking and the size of the building a good indication of his feeling towards his wife.

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Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. I was under the impression that he had been imprisoned in a small room with only a little window overlooking the Taj… But that was a kind of a stupid idea – he was an Emperor after all – so only fair that he was housed in a whole wing.

20121025-102747.jpgView from his wing of the Taj Mahal
There are many myths as to why Shan Jahan was overthrown by his son. Legend has it, that Shan Jahan had decided to build a black marble Taj on the opposite side of the river. His son fearing for his inheritance, stopped his father before he bankrupted the kingdom even further.

Other legends claim that Shah Jahan was so obsesses with his Taj, that he had all the builders dismembered (having their arms cut off) so that they would never again attempt to build a tomb like the Taj Mahal. No evidence exists to support this of course – but History is a crazy kind of beast.

Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal next to his wife. Such a Romeo and Juliet kind of story.

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McLeod Ganj – home to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama

McLeod Ganj is approximately 2000 meters above the see and nestled in the Dhauladhar range (the southern branch of the main Outer Himalayan chain of mountains). It is the headquarters of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which in itself seems like an oxymoron. I would never put ‘monks’ and ‘government’ in the same sentence.

I’m not sure why, but I had figured that the town would be quiet even though his holiness was in residence… Boy oh boy was I wrong. I arrived in Mcleod Ganj to a mass of tourists all coming to hear the Dalai Lama speak during a 4 day convention. I didn’t get to see him – which in hindsight I am a little sad about. However I did visit his compound and get a glimpse into what a monks life entails.

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The bus ride to McLeod Ganj was beautiful. Winding roads, breathtaking views and a climb into the stunning Himalayas. I was surprised by the Tibetan military presence as I had just assumed Tibet was opposed to weapons – but you learn something new every day.

Highlight of my trip was seeing the Monks all together – all races and genders, heads shaved bald, cloaks burnt orange.

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When I arrived at the compound majority of the monks were sitting in the sun in groups of 2 or 3 debating certain topics. I kept hearing clapping sounds, which turned out to be the way monks ended debates (whereby the winner claps his hand in the losers face – not very peaceful).

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It was a great day of just monk watching. Their worshipping is inspiring,

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Even a simple act of lighting candles was beautiful.

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However, my favourite is the prayer wheel for if you’re too lazy to verbalise the mantras – simply spin them as you walk past.

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I decided to spend the extra $2 (yes I said two) and lux it up in an AC reclining seat bus down the winding roads from Mcleod Ganj to Delhi. Leaving Mcleod Ganj actually proved to be a little emotional. Not only had I just got my voice back after attending the Vipassana Meditation Retreat, I had just been reintroduced into society (albeit the society of monks in red robes). But the show must go on and I was en route to the worlds most famous temple dedicating a man’s ability to love a woman and what the loss of that woman drove him to create.

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Vipassana, finding my voice through silence

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I am a person who has had a different theme song for most adventures of my life. A song which comes to me and then somehow sticks. Its like my iPod gets the song stuck in its memory and it plays at all the right times. A song by Stars called You’re Ex-Lover is Dead has become my overall India theme song and I think the poignant line from the song describes Vipassana in one line:

‘Live through this and you wont look back’

Vipassana is a meditation technique whereby meditators are trained to feel subtle sensations on and in their body, hereby seeing things as the are (and not as you would like them to be). The training consists of meditation sessions: sitting in a cross legged position, trying not to move and not to associate with any feelings that might arise from being completely still (mainly feelings of incredibly pain for me). The technique gets taught to participants over a 10 day silent retreat. For me it was basically just learning to listen to and actually hearing my body. It was a 10 day long introduction to my body, an object I thought I had understood only to realise that the war between my mind and self had used it as its battle field.

The introduction kind of went something like this: “Hello body, nice to meet you. I realise now how I have abused you, tried to control you and in the last 10 years not listened to anything you have tried to tell me (especially with regards to food, alcohol, relationships and exercise)”.

It sounds like it happened quickly and was an instant light bulb moment, and I guess it was – but only after 6 days of torture. Vipassana was one of the HARDEST things I have ever done in my life (harder than having a gun in my face or 4 enemas during a PanchaKarma detox).

The realisation came on day 6 when I realised that I did not really understood the concept of silence and that speaking to yourself and singing songs in your mind does not constitute as silence just because you haven’t used your vocal cords to verbalise it. If there had been a loud speaker in my head – the military would have been sent to silence me. Not only had I sung every possible song in my head (including ‘Its my party and I’ll cry if I want to’ on my birthday (day 3)) – the daily convos included convincing myself that World War 3 had broken out and that due to me handing in all technology, no one could notify me about it. On day 6 I decided to be truly silent and stop the mental chatter. It sounds easier than it is but the ego throws every ridiculous scenario at you, trying to get you back into the old spiral pattern of self-talk, which in my case had always inevitably turned into harsh negative talk and projecting opinions about myself onto other people (an example being someone might have looked at me funny and the mind would say “you see-you’re not behaving in xyz manner and now he/she doesn’t like you” – I know, totally absurd). Up and till this point I had not realised that I had been doing this. Knowing how your mind works is incredibly liberating.

Its not a 5 star holiday. I wasn’t there to be comfortable, feel safe and secure. I was there to crack open myself and let some light shine into my soul and heal the past so that I could move forward on a clean slate. I got to these realisations by sitting through the 11 hours of painful meditation a day, a fantastic lecture given by Mr. Goenka (a man who, in my opinion, put Vipassana on the map and also an incredible teacher), sleeping on THE most uncomfortable bed ever and remaining silent long enough to let my body emerge and very quietly start telling me about herself.

Vipassana isn’t for everyone though, and the first casualty left on day 2. I watched the scene with much amusement when she left. It was 6PM and dinnertime. From the dinning room window, I watched a panicked and hurried woman march past, the wheels of her luggage hardly touching the ground, with two volenteers running behind her trying to help with her luggage. The scene was made funnier (in that awkward laugh because you’re nervous could-have-been-you kind of way) by the fact that one wheel kept lifting so high that it kept flipping the suitcase, much to her annoyance. The scene was very surreal – I couldn’t point it out to anyone, nor could I laugh at it due to the rule of silence – all I could do was watch.

By day 9 I had become so used to the silence and so comforted by it, that I really did not want it to end. Being allowed to talk to each other on day 10 was a shock to my system. Having not heard my voice for 10 days, the first words came out squeakily. Not only that, the intense rush of sensations to all parts of my body when I finally broke the silence was overwhelming, to the point that the emotions brought tears to my eyes.

Would I do Vipassana in India again? Probably not – limited resources of water and electricity made an already difficult situation a little harder. Cold water showers in the Himalayas is not ideal in the cold weather. Uncomfortable beds is also an Indian norm (a wooden block with a thin hay mattress where you wake up bruised is not my idea of fun). Having said that though – the surroundings were breathtaking. The Himalayas have a certain calming effect, and looking out onto the amazingly beautiful mountain range everyday made moments peaceful. Infact finding patches of sunlit ground through the pine trees made the silent free-time hours more bearable and really pleasant.

I’m not sure if I mastered the technique and I can truthfully say that I still experience pain during meditation – but it has changed my life and is something that I hope I can continue with daily.

Just remember that everyone’s experience will be different. Here I thought I was a square in a cirlce’s world. Thank goodness Vipassana taught me that there are more squares out there than I thought. So we might not all have the same experience, but the mind seems to work in similar ways, and I find immense comfort in that.

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Rishikesh bliss

I found my happy loving place again in Rishikesh.

Made famous by the Beetles who spent an extended amount of time in an ashram here, Rishikesh has a great mix of nature and nurture, with the Himalayas range starting its ascent and a large choice of ashrams to sooth the soul.

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I checked into Anand Prikesh Ashram near the Lakshman Jhula where we practiced yoga twice a day, got served amazing food three times a day and I had the rest of the time free to roam the streets of Rishikesh.

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Not only that, I got to do my first laughing yoga class, which really is very funny and I had a tummy ache from laughing so much when it ended. It starts off oddly… First your laugh comes out fake, and then you start laughing at the sounds coming out from others, and then its just a whole hearted, whole body laugh which releases all tensions. I absolutely CANNOT wait to do it again.

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There were also the Yogi Yum Yums, which were natural sweet goodies made from honey, peanuts, coconut powder and sesame and so so yummy! The Yogi Yum Yum man was the Yin Yoga teacher from the ashram. It was lovely to practice a new style of yoga which I have not ever heard of before. Yin Yoga is the deep stretching of connective tissues of the body. In layman’s terms: holding stretching poses for an extended amount of time (usually around 5 minutes). The most painful pose is the frog, whereby you hold an almost splitting pose for 5 minutes. Hello open hips and thighs after that one.

During our explorations we stumbled upon the Pyramid Cafe. Having been a vegetarian for 3 months now, I had wanted something along the burger lines. This is more to remind myself than anyone else – but we ordered the MOST DELICIOUS mushroom and tofu burgers. Who needs meat when you really can have an explosion of taste like that in your mouth. This is something I definitely plan on making back home.

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I loved Rishikesh and I will definitely be going back there.

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The curse of a Third World Country

20121017-160056.jpgI have been continually struck by the similarities between South Africa and India. Both third-world countries, both given a start to life with potentially thriving infrastructure. However once the ‘colonists’ forces withdrew from these countries, very little was put towards maintaining that infrastructure. It feels as though the mentality is ‘repair or new’, no thought given to the cost effective ‘maintain’. What the policy leaders fail to recognise is that this blatant waste of money could be put to better use – like education, proper health care and alleviating poverty. Then again these basic human privileges to life would cause the millions below the bread line to make better voting decisions or start to question substandard living environments and corrupt political practices.

My hope for India (and South Africa and any other third world/ developing nation) is not only the protection of history, but more importantly the preservation of future.

Don’t get me wrong – I love the culture that I have been exposed to while traveling here and I am by no means trying to be a political analyst – I just do not like seeing unnecessary poverty that should be the forefront concern of leaders within the world.

Categories: India | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Jaipur madness

β€œto love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.”
― Ellen Bass

I think this poem sums up my time in Jaipur pretty well. I was not overly impressed with the capital of Rajasan. Maybe it was because I was forted out, maybe it was that Pushkar had left a sour taste in my mouth. Whatever the reason was, I had made my way there because I had thought that it would be a good place to end Rajasthan off with. In reality though, I am learning that not every place needs to be visited just for the sake of being seen and it is ok to miss out on some cities.

Jaipur ended up being a little deranged (I am grateful for my ability to laugh at myself, but at the time it was not funny). My day started off nice and early, with a necessary trip to the train station to book my ticket for that evening. The train was full, and I was issued a ‘waiting list’ ticket of 10th in the queue. It never struck me that Jaipur was quite a central point for trains and that I might not make it onto the train.

With ticket in hand, I made my way to the Monkey Temple (aka Galta & Surya Mandir). Rajastan is full of spectacular forts and palaces, each full of its own history, each magnificent, but after having taken the time to go through 3 cities worth of forts, I really was out forted.

My first memory of Monkey Temple is being bombarded by little boys, all wanting to be my tour guide or sell me something (learnt from a young age). One kid ran up to me with a basket, which when opened revealed a cobra coiled up inside. “Madam, madam… Photo? Photo?” as though repeating it would make it more appealing. I must have jumped 10 foot away in one single leap, and him realising that I would not be taking a picture of it, brought the cobra to his neck in an affectionate hug and walked away sulking. Is anything wild in this country?

I was struck by the lack of preservation of what used to be a magnificent temple. The art work is incredible and hundreds of years old, yet as the years go by, weathered by human negligence and the harsh Indian weather, the actual buildings are slowly falling into a sad level of decay.

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Having said that, the setting is superb, with the temple nestled in a beautiful and lush valley. It seemed to be a joyous locals meeting point. From the temple I could hear children laughing and splashing each other from the water tanks / communal bathing area. It was a nice change from the busy street noise of Jaipur city centre.

At this point you must be thinking – this day seems a far cry from the poem above. You see my train was scheduled to departed Jaipur at 23h15. At 20h00, my position had only moved to 4th in the queue, I started worrying that I would not get onto the train. My suspicions were confirmed and the conductor in broken English and hurried and rushed Hindi told me to go to platform 10 at 23h00 to find out what was to become of my trip. The only problem was that the last platform was number 7. Trying to make my way to enquiries I was bombarded by hungry taxi drivers, all wanting to take me to ‘their brothers guest house’. It was near midnight, and I certainly was not going to get into a taxi or rickshaw alone with the blood hound gang – I might be blond but I’m not stupid.

An officer finally told me (again in broken English/Hindi mix) to go get a room in the Railway Station Retiring Rooms (basically over night room in the station). This seemed like a blessing, so I made my way over to the Retiring Rooms counter only to be told that all rooms were occupied. “But my friend will take you to my brothers guest house just up the road, nice, cheap, cheap”. Having smelt a rat I decided to sit in the reception area and plan my course of action. Being after 1AM and me pretty tired – my brain wasn’t really firing off all cylinders – until the receptionist came and sat next to me on the couch (more like right on top of me). He was so in my space, but the real move came when he tried to touch (grope) my thigh. That was that, no more miss nice Raine!! In fact the next Indian tout to talk to me is likely to have his head removed with my nails.

I spent the night on a metal bench in the ‘Ladies Only’ First Class Waiting room. I haven’t spent a night on a bench since my gap year in 2003, but there was not a chance in hell that I was going to get into a taxi with a man, or even talk to anyone until day light.

Day light… And BLISS! With a new take-no-prisoners attitude I spent a glorious day in the pink city, which really is very pink.

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I took myself off to Lassiwala for their infamous creamy lassis. A lassi is a popular and traditional yogurt-based drink. Although this was a sweet lassi, the banana lassi’s are out of this world.

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20121017-152703.jpgthere is a street full of fake ‘Lassiwala’s so look out for the original

This was then followed by some awesome coffee and a traditional breakies (masala dosa – a curry filled rice pancake) at ‘The Indain Coffee House’ – another institution which has kept its quaint Indian-ness and serves cheap but amazing food.

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When ever I think of the name Jaipur, that Bollywood song pops into my head from ‘Slum dog millionaire’ ‘Jaipur… Jaipur’… That really should have been the sign not to go the city. But in hindsight I got to ride in an Indian Helicopter (where the name came from I have NO IDEA, but it is basically a bicycle taxi), dance like a crazy lady in an Indian railway station waiting room (as an attempt to keep awake and then just for the pure fun of it) and discover my limits.

20121017-152843.jpgAll in all, it was just pure madness.

Categories: India | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

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