Unholy Pushkar

Like the Vatican is to Catholism, so is Pushkar to Hinduism. The village was said to be a prominent Hindu pilgrimage town, where local Hindus would visit at least once in their life. But like all good religions – the sacredness is lost when it is sold out to tourist groups with big camera’s. Ultimately the tourist and traveller alike bring with them commercialism which quickly kills all the authentic enchantment which the holy place had, once upon a time, emanated. This green leaf of greed then breeds a kind of priests so corrupt and vile, that even Brahma would turns his back on this once holy city.

I came to Pushkar to pay homage to my mom on her birthday and thought that by placing a ‘holy’ flower into the lake would make for a good memorial. Instead I ended up feeding a village for 5 days and am pretty sure I fell into the ‘official government charity/donation’ trap. It was my own fault, as I had been prewarned, but it still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

Thus far Pushkar has been my least favourite place in India. However I am grateful for the intense lesson I learnt while here. Lesson: India will chew up and spit you out, if you let it. Unfortunately travelers in Pushkar are seen as a walking ATMs by the locals – the glory sent by god to save the less fortunate of this ‘holy’ city. At times in life you need to be firm and strong in what you believe and how far you are willing to be pushed. Unfortunately poverty is a very real problem in India. A problem where you need to turn a blind eye in order not to be swarmed by the hundreds of needy people.

Under different circumstances I might have enjoyed the town more, and I do realise that the loss of my mom would probably have tainted any town I visited on her birthday, but I was only too happy to see the back of that town.

20121015-013236.jpg I was happy to have gotten to wear my sari.

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May your experience of Pushkar be different to mine!

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Camel oh how I love thee… On Safari in Jaisalmer

Another very early morning arrival in the desert city by train. Another swarming of touts all trying to get us to their hotel (which all seem to have the same name – Desert something or other). Wanting to avoid this craze, we booked our hotel ahead of time, and had a driver pick us up from the train station. The Desert Hotel, housed in the walls of the old fort, was a winner of a choice.

After some shut eye, a little tour of the beautiful yellow desert fort (which was a little smaller than what I was anticipating), we booked a camel safari through our hotel (here is the website for those interested because it was wonderful).

Desert Fort:

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The leather shopping here is so worth it. The only problem is they tell you its camel – which is not always the case… My pretty bag is probably cow – but we wont tell anyone;)

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Words do not do the camel safari justice – so here are some pics from our adventure:

My camel – Prince

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20121016-214954.jpgdid someone say camel toe?

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Sleeping under the stars in the Indian desert will be something I wont quickly forget. But the sunset and sunrise was out of this world!!

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The guides were also very good, and the indian food they served up was amazingly fresh and delicious.

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What can I say? Just another day in paradise.

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The Rajasthan adventures continue in Jodhpur

Leaving Udaipur was sad because I really enjoyed the city. But all good things come to an end, and thus bus ticket in hand, the Blue City in mind, off we went.

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The bus ride was… um… a very entertaining experience. Jovan and I got onto a very local bus, which looked as though it had been put together with super glue. Getting over the initial stares from locals, we were off on our adventure and what an adventure it was. Not only was it the bumpiest road I have ever been on, I had the wind knocked out of me when I literally lifted 10 cm from the sleeper and came crashing straight back down on my backpack (this was not a once off event).

Needing the loo in the middle of the night, the bus finally came to a holt at a stop-go section of road works. Not being able to locate the driver and bursting so badly, I had no choice but to make a wee right next to the bus because I was worried the bus driver would drive away from me. Dignity is an expensive commodity that most people in India cannot afford – that night I got a brief glimpse into that world. Because I had been holding it in for so long it had become a really long wee. The road works opened to our direction of traffic, the bus driver appeared out of thin air and started the bus to leave. In a panic I shouted to him that I was outside. He literally came and stood next to me; tapping his foot trying to hurry me along and shouting in a language I had no understanding of (all while I was squatting, trousers around my ankles, making a wee). I gathered he was not impressed that he would loose his much prized position in the queue of buses following the same dirt road. After the fifth bus over took our stationary bus, I realised that my wee break was going to cost some serious make up time and at that point I realised that I would not get a wink of sleep on board.

We arrived in Jodhpur at 4AM and had rickshaw drivers bombard us within seconds of getting off the bus, trying to get us to ‘their’ hotel. This is a whole commission decoy and something travelers get warned against. But we were there safely, and that really was all that matters.

The blue city turned out to be a great stop. It wasn’t as blue as I had thought it was going to be, but blue enough for me to figure that is how they got their name. The Indian caste system really is a very interesting and odd system. One which I am still trying to wrap my brains around due to the rigidity that it entails and how a person can usually not change their social and financial position, no matter how hard they work for it. It is said that the blue city got it colouring from the Brahmins, members of the priestly class (a respectable high caste). The reasoning for painting their houses is unknown, but legend has it that it was due to the Brahmins trying to signify their domicile and status, and to set them apart from the lesser human castes. This legend then goes on to say that non-Brahmins trying to change their caste, painted their homes blue, pretending to be part of a higher caste and thus change their fortunes.

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The fort (aka Mehrangarh) that towers 120m above the city is magnificent and I can confidently say that after visiting the Palace – it is by far my favourite in the whole of India. Not only is it spectacularly maintained (a rarity in India), but its history is so unique and unlike any I have ever been privileged enough to come across.

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20121015-144104.jpgI really recommend the audio guide – so interesting

My biggest eye opener were the hand prints, the sati (self-immolation) marks of the royal widows who threw themselves onto their Maharaja’s funeral pyres when he died. Just inside the main gate are 31 orange hand prints. I have been trying to find out how many woman actually burnt themselves at this funeral, as there are differing figures.

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My research has lead to some very interesting discoveries.

The Commission of Sati (Prevention) Act, 1987 Part I, Section 2(c) defines Sati as:
The burning or burying alive of –
(i) any widow along with the body of her deceased husband or any other relative or with any article, object or thing associated with the husband or such relative; or
(ii) any woman along with the body of any of her relatives, irrespective of whether such burning or burying is claimed to be voluntary on the part of the widow or the women or otherwise

I suppose that woman were seen as property, and once the King died – it was natural for him to take the property that couldn’t be transferred to the new King, with him. The British banned this practice in the 18th century, but there are still occurrences of it in rural villages around India. To the West this practice is seen as suicide, but the East views it as the ultimate act of love. The Sati’s main role is to assist her husband’s entrance into heaven, which would produce a successful rebirth. Not only that though, she is to die with honour and grace, thereby proving her purity and her devotion to her husband.

I am not here to judge, my world trip has been to break away from judgement and with an open heart, view the world as it is. Having said that though, I could not imagine the 25 or so queens burning with their King upon his death, all the while being watched by hundreds of people.

The whole palace is beautiful, but the Moti Mahal (Pearl Palace) stands out in my memory.
This is the main reception hall, which was decorated with amazing stained glass and intricate gold leaf art work on the roof and pillars surrounding the room.

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I met the royal astrologer, who read my palm and told me all about my past and future (he was more accurate than my own memories when it comes to my past and well, I suppose I will just need to wait to see what the future brings – but there’s love, money and all sorts of exciting happiness ahead, so I’m not complaining).

By complete chance, I also met the royal musician who was responsible for the calming music played to the King. He showed me an arrangement of different instruments played and also played me a few songs in the Kings performance room – honestly very calming and wonderful.

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The Spice Market around the clock tower was also a fun adventure. I found the infamous Omelette man who uses 1500 eggs a day in omelettes for tourists and locals alike. It really was the nicest omelette I have ever had. The experience was different to anything I have yet experienced in India. He cooks the omelettes on a gas stove outside in the open air. Sitting on a red plastic chair, chomping on my omelette-on-toast; watching the busy crowded street; my eye caught a glimpse of a camel drawn cart makings its way into the clock tower area. I had really left my known reality and felt like I was in a complete dream world.

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Within the market I tried saffron tea for the first time, and then proceeded to buy more spices and teas than my backpack had space for. After meeting a little girl on the street, and then taking her for lunch, she told me that I was a silly tourist who got ripped off and that I paid 4 times the market rate. Such is life, and it is the reality in India.

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Xxxx

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Udaipur Magic

Think James Bond 007, think Roger Moore, think Octopussy (from the 70’s), think high speed rickshaw chases and skimpily dressed western woman living in a palace in the middle of the lake. Octopussy put this Indian city on the map and every hotel, coffee shop and self-respecting restaurant have not forgotten this. The movie is played every night (at 7:30PM) by pretty much all the above.

I fell in love with Udaipur almost instantly, and having checked into the ‘penthouse’ suite of the Dream Heaven Hotel (basically just the additions of a window seat, my own private balcony looking over the lake and a bath) all for less than a full McDonalds combo in the States, I was set to enjoy my welcome into Rajasthan.

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20121001-114007.jpgI just had to show you the view from my bathroom

Maybe it was because I was still in my post Mumbai honeymoon glow, but Udaipur really is a romantic city. Set on the shimmering Lake Pichola, which reflects the soft evening fairy lights from some hotels onto the water.

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The city was founded in 1586 by Maharana Udai Singh II (meaning king, but interestingly the difference between Maharana and Maharaja is that the later assumed their power and wealth by conquest and the former was essentially undefeated descendants of a “higher authority than man”). The family had a love of palaces and built one for every season. My favourite was the City Palace, which took over 300 years to build. This Palace towers over the city and is a mass of perfect marble and a beautiful space of colour and traditional architecture.

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From here you could see the Lake Palace, beautifully placed in the middle of the lake;

20121014-222804.jpgLake Garden Palace, another palace on the lake

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The thing that struck me most about the palaces were the elephant gates. These gates had huge spikes to try stop invaders using elephants to break through the city gates. So crazy how these massive animals have been used over the ages.

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The Monsoon Palace was disappointing. People had desecrated the building which should inspire awe. Luckily the government is now starting to repair the damage done, and hopefully in the near future this Palace will shine in its former glory.

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20121014-223926.jpgThe view was pretty awesome though. Legend has it that from here the king and his guests hunted leopard and other game. Pity that there are no more wild leopards in the surrounding hills in present day.

We met some really interesting people in Uidapur; were invited to people homes for dinners, got kissed by an old shop owner (a wet one I didn’t know was coming until its too late) and visited the Princess Gardens.

20121014-224528.jpg I also went sari shopping and explored all the wonders that retail Rajasthan had to offer (leathers, cottons, silks, traditional art etc).

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I spent a day checking out educational volunteering programs which have given me really good ideas to try implement back home. A word of caution to female travelers planning on doing volunteering. While visiting the program, the foundation founder took a liking to me. It got to the point where he was offering me money to come and volunteer. Smelling a rat, I asked to be dropped back at my hotel, but he insisted I meet his parents and go to his home. I didn’t have much of a choice (as we were in his car and he didn’t give me a choice). After some stern words that i was no longer interested in his program and firmly removing his hands which kept trying to hold mine, he finally took me back to my hotel. But I got a big fright. Western woman in India are often treated with massive disrespect, and unfortunately strong words and a slap are really required (no jokes – guide books even recommend the firm hand to an idiot trying his luck). I did not let this unfortunate incident taint Udaipur – the city is truly magical. I also will not let the incident taint my idea on volunteering – but it has made me realise that charity starts at home, so I will save my humanitarianism efforts for my beloved South Africa.

Rajasthan is very different though. Beautiful bright colours are everywhere, from the way woman dress (veils covering their faces) to spices sold in shops. I had left the land of tropical paradise, where elephants were used mainly for temple duties, to a new land. A new land where elies are used for war and camels can be seen amongst the rickshaws and taxis on roads… “We’re not in Kansas anymore Toto” – ain’t that the truth!

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Out of control Bombay

I arrived after a fairly crazy overnight bus trip, and was only too ecstatic to be meeting up with 2 of my ashram friends. As luck would have it my host, Aditi, is a Bombay local and it is to her that I owe huge thanks for showing me all the sides to this amazing city.

Our weekend was packed with fun things to do, and I’m glad that it afforded me the time to see a side of Mumbai (Bombay as the locals refer to it) that in normal tourist circumstances I would not have gotten to see.

We started it off with an incredible brunch at Indigo’s, an awesome upmarket restaurant near the Taj Mahal Hotel, where I first got to see that everything in Mumbai runs with a valet service. Due to lack of space, most of the good restaurants in Mumbai take your car keys, easily disposing of your car for you, while you relax and chill out in their blissful air-conditioned and clean space – sipping on fresh watermelon juice. Brunch is a very popular Bombay weekend past-time, whereby locals sip cocktails and dance to loud vibey music before noon. The food is incredible and company relaxing – definitely something I want to bring back to South Africa.

We then hit the streets of Colaba – seeing many famous iconic buildings such as the ‘Gate way to India’ and ‘The Taj Mahal Hotel’ (which incidentally also serves the most delicious cold coffee with ice-cream that I have ever had. You probably are wondering if I have had many cold coffees – but it seems to be way up there along with Nutella pancakes which most restaurants serve to keep tourists happy – not very Indian).

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Bombay is a city of such stark contrasts. On one hand, you have an incredibly iconic and beautiful 5 star hotel and then right out side are homeless people with not a cent to their name.

It was at ‘The Queens Necklace’ where I really fell in love with Mumbai. The stretch of Marine Drive lit up by the street lights at dusk and the view of the city skyline across the bay is truly magnificent. The three of us doing yoga on the promenade, with warm wind blowing through our hair.

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I was supposed to go to the Ajunta caves – instead I started a love affair with a city that has no middle ground.

This love affair took me to the Blue Frog, where Shankar Tucker was performing Indian Classical music mixed with Indian Folk music traditions. It was an awesome combination and it allowed me see an intellectual side passed on from generation to generation.

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It continued when we went to see D’Lo at the St. Andrews Auditorium. This Sri Lankan comedian had us all in stitches with his very honest, but funny comments on coming out and how an Asian family living in America dealt with it.

Our next stop was the Smugglers market tour through Chor Bazaar with ‘Magic Mumbai Tours’. It was on this tour where I learnt that the Portuguese actually introduced chillies to India. It was also on this tour that confirmed that mutton on menus is actually goat. Walking through the bazaar was a delightful assault on the senses. The colours were amazing, seeing different cultures live so closely yet so separately was inspiring and feeling old antiques (of all kinds), found down narrow shops that never seem to end, was adventurous. I could write about Chor Bazaar for hours – but instead I will leave a few photos and tell you to go experience it yourself (huge huge recommendation).

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But what is a city without some night-life fun, and Aditi was so good at getting us out and getting our dance on. It was fun dancing until the cops came and shut down the club (something that happens world wide I see;) ). It was more fun trying to put our new Bollywood dancing techniques into practice. The coordination you need to sway your hips and flick both arms (in different poses) was well beyond me – and I ended up doing the same movements over and over again.

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And with that I’ll leave you with my theme song for Bombay – from someone who knows how to dance Bollywood! {please click on the link – you wont regret it}
Sheila Ki Jawaani

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Mumbai madness

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The english news headline read that 50% of the Indian population defecate outside. My initial response was that I thought this headline was odd and something I wasn’t sure I agreed with. Then I arrived in Mumbai, and from the window of the bus the first thing I saw was a man making a pretty runny pooh on the side of the street – a pleasant welcome to city.

I caught an overnight bus from Hampi (well Hospet to be exact) to Mumbai, and booked a single sleeper. It struck me, when I was reading the back of my ticket, how much protection the Indian society tries to put around females and it really made me smile. My ticket read that ‘co-seats of lady passenger to be confirmed to lady passenger, no accommodation given to male passenger’ which basically means that no strange male may sit next to a female passenger. This simply made my night.

My little happy dance was short lived when I woke to a man staring at me from 3 seats away. I cannot begin to describe how uncomfortable this is, especially because no matter what death look you give back to the starer, they simply do not look away. Eminem said “Y’all act like you never seen a white person before. Jaws all on the floor”… I know, I know, quoting Eminem is not really something I do – BUT it honestly is like that.

Driving into Mumbai was a real eye opener. Possible the worst thing I have seen thus far, but you know how people slow down to look a car accidents? That was me, glued to the bus window, taking all of Mumbai in.

Things I wont forget soon:
1. The huge huge city that is Mumbai – it took over an hour from the city outskirts to get near the city centre;
2. The massive slum, which doesn’t seem to end;
3. The stench in the air, the dark brown dirty sea, the dirt that is everywhere, the lack of dirt bins (apparently the poor steal them to try sell them so the city has stopped providing bins); and
4. The poverty so thick you can taste it. Little street children actually get into your space, often tapping you until you notice them (which is incredibly irritating, but sad all at once because you just have to ignore them). We had an unfortunate situation where 2 little girls on the Queens Necklace wouldn’t let go of the car as we were trying to turn into traffic. They finally let go when the car had picked up speed and the bus behind us gave them a cautionary honk. The one thing I’m learning is that India will make you hard.

On a positive note though, the people here have been super friendly and helpful and have helped me regain my confidence that not every rickshaw driver wants to rip off tourists.

While asking people which train to take (while on the train – not the brightest move) – a bunch of excited school girls and an old woman all tried to explain in Hindi that I was on the wrong train. Eventually another woman came to the rescue and explained which train I needed to be on. Female only railway carriages made me smile, and even though they get jam packed, at least you’re not giving some idiot the chance to touch you in places he shouldn’t be.

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On 2 more occasions I was helped out:
1. A man outside of the train station hailed a rickshaw for me, then put a local woman in it so that I was charged the local rate and sent me off to the airport – I was soo incredibly grateful for this.
2. Seeing we were lost a woman asked us to share her rickshaw. After dropping us where we needed to be, we tried to give her money and her response was “Please do not embarrass me, you are the guest”.

For all the dirt, poverty and busy-ness I really liked Mumbai. Her energy is good at heart, and even though she suffers from over population – her spirit was fun, exciting and awake.

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Hampi holidays

En route to Hampi we made a stop over in Bangalore (now known as Bengaluru), which is just another Indian city as far as I’m concerned – and perhaps I haven’t paid the city its correct dues and for that I am sorry. However I had THE most incredible 25 course Thali at MTR (Mavalli Tiffin Room, an establishment that started in 1924). The restaurant is still going as strong today as back when it first started with most of the clientele being local (always a good sign). The place was totally packed, so much so that there was a queue outside before the lunch sitting opened at 12:30.

Thali:
An Indian dish made up of multiple tasting bowls of local cuisine (see pic below)

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We arrived in Hampi and decided to cross the river to go and stay on the Hampi island. I am convinced that I was born a blond – crossing a river in the middle of monsoon season is asking for trouble, and well trouble was what we got. The evening we arrived it rained, no pored, for a solid 12 hours. The next morning when I woke up and wanted to go see all the amazing temples, I woke with the sick feeling of being trapped. Over night the river had come up in flood and due to the pace that it was rushing, no boats were permitted to cross. Although I remained chilled and relaxed for a further 3 days (my view was that of green rice paddies and beautiful boulders so I really had little to complain about), the first sunny day where the river had subsided a little, I moved back across to the main land.

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Hampi, like my life, was under construction. When I finally made it to the other side, I found that many of the LonelyPlanet recommended guest houses were no longer available as those building had been bulldozed in the mass ‘heritage saving’ project whose main effort is to preserve the ancient ruins. Up and till recently many of the ruins were occupied by local villagers.

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Finally I was able to see all that is Hampi. I hired a bike, and decided to get my cycle on. Its a good 30km cycle and then about another 10km of walking due to the location of the ruins, but a well worthy trip to do.

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The ruins are basically split into ‘The Sacred Centre’ and ‘The Royal Centre’. The Sacred Centre includes the likes of Matanga Hill (which has a huge statue of a monolithic bull – I’m not totally sure what the significance of that is – but thought I would throw it in here), Vittala Temple (famous for the large ornate stone chariot whose wheels once turned) and the Sule Bazaar (aka Courtasan’s Street). Legend has it that in the 16th century, the bazaar sold precious stones, much the same the local bazaars now sell cheap chinese toys. Can you imagine just putting your hands into a bowl full of diamonds or flawless sapphires?

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I was having romantic daydreams of being a lady in waiting during times of old, and got totally lost in the beauty of the Sacred Centre.

The Royal Centre includes the likes of The Queens Bath, The Elephant stables, The Lotus House, The Underground Shiva Temple. Being set fairly far from the river, it is a marvel that the ancients had fresh running water. I was totally blown away by the architecture – especially The Lotus House.

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20120930-160551.jpgThe Queens Bath

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20120930-160904.jpgThe Lotus House

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20120930-161506.jpgThe Elephant Stables

I often feel that as beings, we really have gone backwards in evolution and are currently in the dark ages. In the 1300s this ancient city had sewerage, fresh water to homes and structures which went on to last for over 700 years. We really have sold out – most of our products now days have a shelf life of a few years (if that), many rivers are not safe for human consumption and don’t get me started on sewerage systems here, which has regressed from what those wise ones had built hundreds of years ago. However having said that, Hampi has an incredibly rich history; a romantic feel of how life used to be like, an old city which had been so remarkably and powerfully built, but so crushingly destroyed.

My all time favourite though, was spending time people watching in the Virupaksha Temple. Locals come from far and wide to pay their respect to their deities, and I really admire their dedication to their gods.

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Forting it up in Kochi

I have very little to say about Fort Kochi, other than it has been my favourite stop in India so far and YOU MUST GO. I have loved seeing a very different side to India. Kerala was green and tropical and then all of a sudden you reach this quaint chinese style island with its own very distinct architecture, amazing coffee shops and very rich history.

What I liked about Kochi is that the government has limited the taxi drivers and auto rickshaw drivers ability to rip off tourists. When leaving the train station upon arrival we saw a pre-paid taxi/ auto counter (which I suppose had always been at the stations – I guess I had just been oblivious to them). Now I said the government try limit the drivers ability – the drivers do still try, so keep your wits about you. We caught an auto down to the main jetty and then from there caught a Rs2 ferry to the island (its so little I’m not even going to try convert it).

A word of advice – upon arriving in Fort Kochi – rickshaw drivers will basically ask to pay you to drive with them. They get commission from many of the stores on the island, so a trip that should take 10 minutes could end up taking hours because they WILL stop at 10 different shops. So remember to be clear about where you’re going, walk with purpose and you state your price.

Things to do:

Jew town – the old synagogue and great shopping:

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Spice and scent shopping:

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Coffee shops:

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Idiom book shop:

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Chinese fish nets:

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Other than that, there are great places along the shore front to have drinks at.

A complete side note:
While in Fort Kochi, sipping the umpteenth cup of coffee, my friends and I spoke about cultures and the vast difference in communication. Even though in India we were all grouped as Westerners, we worked out that the simple hand signal for 3 was so different between South Africa, USA and Germany.

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Leaving to the country side

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At some point I lost track of how long we had been in Varkala… Every morning I had woken up and thought “today we should leave” only to not. Oman was approaching which meant that we HAD to leave as we had been invited to visit my yoga instructor’s, Sujith, village to celebrate with his family.

Sujith really made a big impact on my ashram experience. Not only did he help further my yoga practice, he was always so happy and carefree. During yoga practice he would pat me on my head like I was a well behaved puppy when I would get the yoga poses right. Under normal circumstances this would have annoyed me to no end, however with his child-like charm and caring teaching skills, I became very fond of him within my first few days of being at the ashram.

20120922-224030.jpg Did I mention that he is also the most supple person I have ever met

In typical Raine fashion, I left my packing to the last minute and literally jumped onto a moving train sans tickets. This caused a penalty of Rs500 for boarding a train with no ticket. We were finally on our way to go meet up with more friends – with a valuable lesson learnt on what not to do when it comes to Indian Rail.

Onam is a big festival celebrated predominantly in the south of India. It is the harvesting festival and reminded me a lot of Christmas where families get together and basically spend the day eating, drinking and being jolly. In true Indian flavour and with their love of colour – many beautiful pookalams are created outside homes and on shop entrances, which I suppose would be the equivalent to their christmas tree then. Some of these pieces take hours to create and are really very special.

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Sujith comes from a small rural village near Thrissur called Guruvayur. Being the first person in his household to leave the village was seen as a massive accomplishment. Having met his family, it is easy to see their pride for son who has up and till now been their pride and joy and seen as very successful.

Going to his village I experienced a truly wonderful Indian experience (one of many that was going to occur). Arriving at his home, he parents ushered us into the front room of their home to a feast of fresh coconuts, dates, pineapple and other locally grown fresh veggies. Upon a little investigation it turned out that this room was a very multipurpose room – being the dinning room, TV room and bedroom for the whole household. The humility I experienced is difficult to explain and I was blown away by how little the family had yet how much they offered us. I was also struck by how excited the village got to see foreigners, which meant that we attracted quite a gathering of people, with the same questions about ‘good name’, marriage and job. The only question I seem to answer correctly is the first one – but I’m working on a my explanation as to why my family have not married me off yet at 27 and on why I would voluntarily choose to be unemployed (funemployed wasn’t really understood).

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En route to visit his parents we visited the local Elephant farm. I use the farm very loosely. The ground houses 64 elephants which are used by the local temple as temple animals. I am continually surprised by the Indian taming methods of these great creatures and am dumbfounded that Africa hasn’t learnt to do the same with our mass of elephants. However I will say that I am not a fan of the idea of enslaving these enormous creatures purely for recreational use. Hopefully I will see A wild animal one day this trip, I am starting to think that this is a rare occurance here.

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[If anyone knows what musth means – please let me know]

I also got to experience the coverted Kerala house boating experience and on a raining day, my friends and I headed out on the famous Kerala backwaters for some relaxing time. The backwaters have an eery, yet comforting and very quiet feel and if you have ever read ‘God of small things’ you would know what I mean. If you find yourself in Kerala – you should definitely try it out.

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The trip would not have been complete if we didn’t visit a temple and so we headed to Shri Krishna Temple, where we saw a play performed by the village’s local children. I totally love the colour and makeup, even though I was not too clued up as to what was happening in the play.

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Unfortunately our time was limited and very early the next day we made our way to train station in Thrissur to head back to the coast to continue our trek up north.

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I am very happy that I got to get off the tourist route and travel the road less travelled. With 1.3 billion people in India and with this ‘countryside’ under my belt, I am now convinced that there is no open land in India. Towns and villages are so entangled that I am never sure where the one starts and where the other ends. It certainly takes a getting used to.

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That crazy little thing called love.

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For years I have thrown my all behind relationships where I have felt a slight real connection. Recently I met a man who looked into me and knew me immediately. I had never experienced such an intense instant connection with anyone before, and it made me realise how at times I allow people (rightfully or wrongfully) into my space and into my heart, and then end up spending years trying to work them out of my system. I didn’t know him, nor him I, but in the 3 days in which we got to know each other on a purely platonic level – I opened up to him more than I have opened up to any other male in my whole life. It was both incredibly scary and incredibly liberating all at once.

The funny thing about humans is that after an experience, we unpack what had happened, start getting advice from other friends as we start questioning what our gut had told us was real.

What I felt for him in that short period of connectedness – was I being emotionally played? Was it real? Was he just saying thing he thought I wanted to hear in order to get into my undies even though we never even kissed?

I find that when you ask certain friends about a connection – they give you a negative message – “he was just trying to get xxx out of you” (with the underlying message – “how could he like you?”). Other better friends are more supportive, telling you to trust yourself, but at what point do we look inwards and trust ourselves? At what point do we just take a moment for what it was – an incredible connection with another human being! A connection that doesn’t need a name or a box to fit it into. I’m not saying I fell in love with someone after 3 days, I’m saying that it took 3 days for me to realise that if we’re open and truthful with ourselves then anything is possible. I’m saying trust your heart and go with it – no matter where it will lead you.

This got me thinking about attraction, connection, love and how we perceive our world and the people we choose to allow into that world. We meet hundreds of people every day and over our life time come into contact with millions even, then why do only a few ever make it into the inner sanctums of your heart?

I have read of soul trees, where certain souls that we connect with travel across life times together. Some are members of your family, some are people you meet and feel you know them from somewhere but cannot put your finger on it, some are lovers (past or present), some are your nearest friends whom you trust, some are friends who have hurt you.

Then what of soul mates?

To take a quote from ‘Eat, Pray, Love’:

“People think a soul mate is your perfect fit, and that’s what everyone wants. But a true soul mate is a mirror, the person who shows you everything that is holding you back, the person who brings you to your own attention so you can change your life.

A true soul mate is probably the most important person you’ll ever meet, because they tear down your walls and smack you awake. But to live with a soul mate forever? Nah. Too painful. Soul mates, they come into your life just to reveal another layer of yourself to you, and then leave.

A soul mates purpose is to shake you up, tear apart your ego a little bit, show you your obstacles and addictions, break your heart open so new light can get in, make you so desperate and out of control that you have to transform your life, then introduce you to your spiritual master…”
― Elizabeth Gilbert

If I don’t have another experience in India, I wouldn’t mind. I met someone who challenged my ideas on religion, on family, on love, on myself and for that I will always be grateful.

So my friends, just keep following the heart-lines on your hand. May my heart lead me home, wherever that may be.

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