Tuesday, March 31, 2009
I met a really lovely woman Tiggy in the class who reminded me alot of my friend Kim whom I met at the Sivanada Ashram. Tiggy and I came back to my hangout - a beautiful vegetarian restaurant called "A Taste of Heaven" and had a luscious feast and talked for hours about life and yoga. I'm doing a cooking class at "A Taste.." tomorrow where I will cook 6 dishes so I invited her to come and sample my inexperienced Thai cooking! We are also planning on going on a Zip Line Trek perhaps on Friday so that should be exciting! Zooming through the jungle at 60km an hour...YIPEE!
I spent yesterday with Diego who took me to a hotel down yet another nondescript residential street (with Thai prostitutes hanging out the door having a leisure afternoon) to go for a swim in a beautiful pool. It was so nice to sit away from the world with water lapping at my feet. I spent 4 hours there reading and swimming and was grateful for the serenity. I went back afterward to "A Taste..." for lunch and ended up meeting this really nice man James from South Cali who lives here in Chiang Mai. We shared the remnants of my spring rolls and I tried a few dishes that he had while we talked about India, the differences btwn Hinduism and Buddhism, and other thought provoking subjects. It was a very stimulating conversation, and James was picking my brain alot about India. I was very happy to share my stories with him, and he encouraged me to be a writer and share all that I experienced! The owner of the restaurant (Roy) came and sat with us and brought us some Gin and tonics (he's a proper english man!!) so I had a nice stiff drink before stumbling off to my yoga class. LOL.
James, Roy, Tiggy, and I are going to go to a nearby Sikh temple on Friday night for free vegetarian food so that should be fun. I may go a bit early and check out the temple.
I'm feeling a bit better and clearer, and ready to come home and sort myself out. I'm looking forward to getting back to work, making some much needed money and closing down my life there. I've got big dreams and plans and I think that it will all work out. I just have to believe and trust. Its a stuggle for a Type A personality like me who loves to control every aspect of my life down to the T but maybe I need to start taking a leap of faith. And just believe, baby, believe.
Anyway I'm off to cook some fabulous dishes...I'll post the recipes!
Monday, March 30, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I'm here on Haad Yuen beach on Kho Phangan and I'm having an alright time. Thailand is not what I expected it to be. I'm still missing India like mad and having a hard time just chilling on the beach. I'm not really a "relaxer" per se so that may be part of the problem, but I also feel like I am spinning my wheels here and just burning time. I am having anxiety about coming home...I'm really nervous about leaving this trip behind and getting back to life. I have realized so many things about my life back in Vancouver and I am honestly more confused about where I am in my life now that I have been away. I've been feeling awfully lonely and down here, and even started crying in yoga class this morning. The teacher played a track from this album "Sacred Chants of Devi" that had Reena played for me the night before I left to come on my adventure. The song is a beautiful and haunting track regardless but it brought back the excitement and wonder of going away and I felt like I hit a wall. I broke down and started crying, secretly of course...it's hot and muggy enough for me to disguise my tears as beads of sweat. I'm really got to put my nose to the grindstone and figure out a way for me to get to London. I'm just putting it out there, and I have faith it will all work out. I need a change so bad.So the crazy thing is about this beach is that it is full of Vancouvites! The yoga teacher knows me from Beats Without Borders events (she has seen me dance a few times) and in the class I ran into 2 girls I used to party with waaaay back in the day when I was young and crazy (I'm still crazy but not that kind of crazy). The girls are Stacy and Shania (Tezra- Kirsten's friend Stacy). There was another girl in the class from the Drive so that was really funny to see her as well. Turns out that Haad Yuen is the beach to go to! I'm happy to have found Stacy and Shania. We are having a nice time eating loads of yummy food, drinking lots of shakes (pineapple & mint, coconut, and watermelon are my favorites) and of course our daily yoga class. It's been a nice distraction for my overactive mind. They are both moving home to Vancouver after 4 years of being away living in Japan. Stacy has been travelling for one and a half years now and I had just missed her at the Sivanada yoga ashram when I was there by 1 week. Strange.
I've been spending my days pretty much the same...getting up for yoga, eating with the class afterwards at the Bamboo restaurant, going for a swim, reading, watching movies at my bungalow and eating and reading some more. I'm not used to being this chill and I think that is one of the reasons that I am losing my mind! I'm struggling to keep my mood uplifted- I know I sound so melodramatic- but I am having alot of conflicting and confusing thoughts. It's hard being here in paradise and not being able to totally appreciate this beauty. I'm trying to stay present but my mind is a million miles away. Thailand is a good place to get away to but it's not really an experience nor an adventure...and that's the way I like to travel. I have run into more tourists here on this beach than I have in all my travels in India...and I go to sleep listening to banging house music. I miss the jangle of the temples of India in the morning, and the singsong intonation of Hindi.
I had my hair cut by this London hairdresser as my hair was in a dire need to get sorted out. He cut my hair really punky and I suddenly have baby bangs again ("Sweet ones darling") so I am coping with how to style my hair! Especially in this humidity....my hair has gone huge and corkscrewy! I hope the bangs grow out before I return...I look like I am 19 years old again (but with 10 yrs experience lol).
I'm gonna stay here till Sunday- till the end of my yoga pass- and I think that I'll fly to the north to go to Chiang Mai. A couple I met in Munnar (Leeanne and Mike) will be going north on the 1st of April and want to meet me there so I think I will. It'll be nice to have some company and they are hilarious Brits who will keep me laughing for sure. They are coming from spending 2 months in Africa so it will be great to hear their experience.
So I'm off to bed...good night. xoxoxox
Monday, March 23, 2009
I have arrived on Kho Phangan today after a fairly easy journey from Bangkok. I caught the night bus and managed to get a little bit of rest on the bus...I had 2 seats to myself so I twisted myself up sideways and caught some shut eye. We stopped at 24 hour Thai food extravaganza...it was brillantly lighted with hot pink and mint green fluroscent lights. a shrill woman barking orders over the super loud speaker system, and the craziest assortment of food I have ever seen. I was right out of it so I didn't take any pictures...but if I stop at a place like this on my way back believe me I will!
I caught a high powered catamaran to Kho Phangan which took about 3 hours. I passed out for most of the trip, but awoke when we arrived on Kho Tao to see the chunky island dressed in emerald palm trees and white sand. I arrived on Kho Phangan and immediately was addressed by a Hare Krishna spreading his love of Krishna...I must have something written all over my soul or something! I gave him 50 B for his book on Karma-Yoga and caught a minibus to Haad Rin (the infamous Full Moon Party beach) so that I could catch a boat to Haad Yuen. I met a girl named Lucy on the bus who lives here on Kho Phangan -actually at the yoga centre The Sanctuary. Lucy convinced me to go right to The Sanctuary and check out the beach there. So I went to that beach and checked into a dorm room at the Sanctuary. As I was getting out of the boat I ran into a Vancouver Yoga Teacher at the Sanctuary doing a teachers training course! It really is a small world isn't it!
The Sanctuary is a really beautiful spot but it was a bit too high-end hippy resort-y for my liking. The restaurant had gorgeous (but expensive) food, so I splashed out on a lentil burger which was music to my lips. I ended up walking the steep pathway through the jungle to Haad Yuan- the beach that Sarah had recommended inititally and found it was much more to my liking. So I booked a room at the Big Blue Bungalow, trekked back to the Sanctuary, packed up all my stuff, and trekked back to the Big Blue. This was all done between 2:30 & 3:30 in 37C heat. and I forgot to reapply my sunscreen after my post- meal swim. I have very burned shoulders and a rather Rudolph looking nose...alas my quick dosing of SPF 40 didn't help much.
I met a really strange Israeli fellow (who I think was gay) who took a real liking to me, so much so that he tried to climb into my hammock with me. I felt rather uncomfortable OBVIOUSLY so I fled as soon as I could claiming that I was being bitten by mossies (which I was...they are as big as birds here). This fellow is named Asher, and I'm hoping to avoid him at all costs...he seems like a real wierdo! But this beach is TINY and very unpopulated so unless I hide out in my bungalow all day or leave the beach I'm sure I'll be seeing lots of him. He seems like the real man about town...I hope he's just extra gay and friendly, not creepy and lecherous! LOL
I'm starting yoga tomorrow morning so I'm quite excited. I'm not really one to sit and relax much on the beach so I need some activity besides shopping (which there isn't much of here thankfully) and eating (yikes...I really need the yoga to stop me from eating so much!). Staring at the endless sea is lovely and all but I cannot spent 10 days doing that. I may head into town Haad Rin in a few days to check out the scene there, but I'll wait till after the Black Moon party to do so.
I had a fab dinner at my bungalow and watched the movie "Old School" there. The Big Blue shows 2 movies a night, so that will be a good way to ease into bedtime..seeing as I lost my beloved book "A New Earth" somewhere between Bangkok and here. Oh Ashley. Typical!
The rain has now eased off so I guess I will mosey back to my bunglaow and hunker down for the night. I'm going to get up early and wander the beach a bit before all the rest of the other people get their yoga grooves on.
Mom and dad- so sorry to hear about Alf :( but hopefully he's in peace now. Send gramma my love.
Sunday, March 22, 2009
I got up pretty early yesterday and checked out of my hotel and into another one that is off Khao San Road in a much quieter area. The veggie restaurant that I have been living (Ethos) is next door to me, so that is quite a treat!! I ended up shipping home another box yesterday...I ended up buying a Rajasthani bedspread in Benaras from Prem's shop that I had been coveting for the past month and a half. I may be late in getting some gifts distributed as the SAL mail service will take a minimum 4 weeks to get to Canada...so please be patient!
I went to Wat Phrew Kao (The Emerald Buddha temple) and City Gate Palace yesterday as well as I popped into Wat Po (The Reclining Buddha Temple). Wat Po was amazing, and holds the largest gold reclining Buddha in the country. On the wall along his backside you can make a nominal donation and get a little bowl full of tiny coins that you drop into buckets that line the wall. I said a little prayer for every coin I dropped...I'm not sure exactly what this routine was for so I thought that I should make the most of what I was doing!
After visiting the temple, Sarah recommended that I go and get a Thai Massage as Wat Po has an excellent school there for massage. I booked an hour long massage and was worked over beyond belief. I'm not sure why everything was so painful- I haven't been very active so maybe that's why but it still felt good. I had every part of my body worked over, and the tiny Thai woman put my body into positions and then used her body to stretch me further. It felt amazing and kinda like I had a workout...Lazywoman's yoga I guess I could say!
I went to the Weekend Market (CHACHEW) today and shopped like crazy. I'm now regretting sending over that package as I could have filled it with so much more stuff! My backpack is back to being as heavy as it was when I had the bedspread in it. Damn! The market was insane...had absolutely everything available...from handicrafts, tons and tons of clothes and thelike, sheets, Thai silk, home furnishings to pets like dogs, rabbits and turtles and much much more. It was so hot though and the humidity is really stifling. But it's better than being cold and wet back at home (sorry for the jab...;)).
It's been amazingly difficult to get vegetarian food here. I had some pad Thai yesterday that was pretty good but to be honest I'm not such a fan of Pad Thai to begin with. It tasted better than the Pad Thai back at home though as ketchup isn't used. I'm looking forward to getting to the beach and getting a little routine place to hang and eat at.
I got an email from Adrian today who is studying esoteric tantra yoga for 6 months in Kho Phanang. The yoga itself doesn't call out to me but running into an old friend does so I'm gonna make sure to call him when I arrive. I'm going a little batty talking to myself...although as long as I don't answer everything is alright...right? LOL
I'm off to Kho Phanang tonight and I am excited to get some R & R and do lots of yoga. Sarah sent me some really good recommendations so thank you my streudal!
I'll check in with more deets later.
Friday, March 20, 2009
I've arrived in Disneyland..aka Bangkok. I am not feeling it at all at the moment and have had quite a few wobbly moments as I just miss India so much! I am also suffering from MAJOR culture shock, and it doesn't help that I was dropped off in backpacker hell...Khao San Road. The area is loaded with half naked tourists, (well that's not really the case but it sure seems like it!) everyone is around 20 years of age and all getting wasted on Thai Buckets. Top 40 music is pumping from the cafes and 7/11, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and Subway dot my corner. I'm feeling one step closer to home. Yikes.
I got about 3 hours sleep last night and was awoken by the reception at my hotel at 2:15am. I struggled to get going but made it in plenty of time to Bombay International. The whole morning (shall I say mourning?...) seemed like a dream. I was quite emotional at the airport and I longed to stay on in India. But I boarded my plane and had a really nice flight to Bangkok.
I arrived in Bangkok and caught a cab into town. I was trying to figure out what the noise was that I WASN'T hearing...silence!!! No one was honking, everyone was driving sanely...it was almost too much to take! Ahh how I long for the craziness of good ole Indian highways...wait I must be really homesick to wish that upon myself!
I got to Khao San Road iat 12 noon and took the first hotel I came across. I was knackered and needed a place to drop my bags to chill. It is a nice hotel but quite expensive so I will move on tomorrow once I have had a decent sleep.
I did a bit of shopping and had lunch at this really lovely veggie restaurant. The street is so overloaded with tourists that I cannot hardly stand it. In all of India the only places that I saw this many tourists was Arambol and Pushkar. But there they had the whole city to spread themselves out...here its only a few blocks. I decided that I needed to unwind so I went and got a mani, pedi and reflexology treatment to calm and treat myself...my feet are looking gorgeous and I fell asleep during the reflexology treatment. The Thai really know their beauty stuff for sure.
I'm gonna stick around in Bangkok at least till Monday and then I think I will head to Kho Phanang to go to a yoga retreat centre there. Flashes of white sand and turquoise seas may be the thing to soothe my soul. If you have any recommendations please let me know as I am travelling by the seat of my pants!
Thailand just seems to be the land of excess..whether its the Thai prostitutes hanging off every middle aged white mans' arm, the massively indulgent Thai bucket, cheap and oily street food, cheap prescription drugs, and 7/11's on each and every corner. Everything is available ALL the time here in Thailand, and it's not something I'm into.
Starting to face the reality of returning to reality back home..it's amazing how fast these months have gone really. But I have my UK trip to tide me over in June...and hopefully I'll land a job (and a visa EEK!!) over there so that gives me something to look forward to. Keep your fingers crossed for me...I really need a fresh start in my life!
Lots of love from BKK...
Thursday, March 19, 2009
I came to Puri to meet up with Martin. Martin has come to Puri to look at a school that has been successfully running for 5 years. The children who attend the school are either orphaned, live far away, or are too poor to go to public school in the city. The school is run and funded by a Spanish woman from Galicia named Neneta. Neneta is a regular here in India, and has been coming to India every year since 1984. Martin has also spent alot of time here in India. Martin has been wanting to help out in some way to give back to a country that has given him so much. Under the guidance of Babaji (Shivanada) Martin was directed to contact Neneta, who was also guided previously by Babaji to open the school.
Neneta originally helped to reopen a school in Juanga, Orissa that was destroyed by a cyclone in 1999. The cyclone killed 100,000 people, and destroyed many of the small surrounding villages. Many of the survivors survived only by huddling together in large groups that made them too heavy to be carried away by the winds. Neneta singlehandedly raised enough money through raffle sales and donations back in Spain to rebuild the school. She then created an NGO called Shanga that helped generate more funds for the project.
Neneta decided to let the project go in 2005 when an American NGO stepped in and wanted to take over the project. Neneta again started looking for a way to help the children of Orissa. Orissa is one of the poorest states in India, and the people of Orissa are heavily trodden with troubled times. The annual monsoon wipes out much of the agriculture, and villages often get flooded and washed away.
One day Neneta was talking to Babaji who suggested that she go to Puri and see how she could help in the villages around there. Once in Puri, Neneta then met a wonderful man named Umesh who owns a local travel agency. He also wanted to help his people and agreed to assist Neneta in her vision of building a school. The two of them then found a plot of land in the jungle in Pubai ( 1.25 hours from Puri) which they purchased and started building a school.
The journey to the school was a beautiful drive- we drove through tiny villages alongside emerald rice paddy fields and watched the sky get framed by palm tree groves. Many villagers looked at us with curiosity as we bumped along the dirt path in the white Ambassador. Once we arrived at the gates of the school, a flood of children came down to meet us. They greeted Umesh and Neneta first, and then came to greet Martin, Dina, Mano, and myself. Many of the children bent down to touch our feet and then touch their foreheads in a sign of great respect. Hands searched for clearance to greet us with "Namaste! Como estas? What's your good name??" It was very touching and tears quickly sprung to my eyes.
We spent the evening touring the school and trying to get comfortable in the 40 degrees heat. In the evening, the children run 1 km to a nearby lake where they take a bath. Every evening after the bath the kids have a yoga class, and man are they ever flexible! From standing upright to bending backwards into bridge, getting legs behind heads, twisting themselves into a pretzel...they do it all! I watched the session with extremely wide eyes, gave an occasional gasp, and tried to mask a whole lot of envy.
The children finish the yoga session with chanting. Two young girls led the opening bhajan which was then sung by the rest of the group. It was a beautiful experience listening to the tiny voices lilt and sing, and then echoed back in response by the rest of the group. The children sit straight backed in half lotus position with closed eyes and their hands folded gracefully into namaste at their hearts. On this evening after the chanting the children were then sprung into their music class. Normally the music class falls on the weekend, but because it was a special evening (as we were all there visiting), the teacher decided to showcase his workings with the students. The music teacher is a man from a nearby village who comes on the weekends. He plays the tabla, harmonium, and other traditional instruments. He also had a rich melodious voice, and sang us a haunting traditional Orissa folksong that made my heart ache. The children sang many songs for us, in both Oriya and in Spanish. Neneta then brought our talents to the table- we had an impromptu talent show! I bellydanced 2 songs for the kids, Martin played a song on his guitar, and Patri (a Spanish girl who was also at the school visiting with her boyfriend Arthuro who painted a vibrant mural in one of the classrooms) sang a Orissa song that she had learned over the previous days. The kids then volunteered to get up and perform...some of the shy girls sang sweet love songs with Filmi style dancing, some of the boys did outragous Bollywood disco, and one even dramatically told a joke which made us all laugh even though we didn't speak Oriya! The children are rife with talent and eager to learn. I taught them how to zaghreet (a Middle Eastern ululation that is made by chirping La-la-la really fast) which I am sure will drive the teachers all wild!
The kids love being in school and seem to all work hard. 97 children sleep at the school full time, while the other 150 go home in the evenings. The children that stay at the school sleep together on the classroom floor on palm mats.
The next day we had another impromptu talent show where I was again asked to perform and this time got a few of the young girls up to dance. Their ability to move was astounding and I was suprised to see such natural ability. Neneta asked me to teach a dance class for the girls later on in the afternoon which I did in the hot, hot heat. I had about 30 girls in the class and had alot of fun teaching them. Many of them danced very naturally and often added their own bit of expression and flair. I was exhausted after teaching for only 30 minutes, but they just wanted to keep on dancing!
The school is doing well but donations are always needed to keep the project moving. There is currently no running water nor electricity at this point, but Neneta hopes that in the near future the funds will be there to bring these vital things to the school. Neneta is also looking to hire an english teacher for the school.
I am personally involved in helping this school reach its highest potential. Neneta and Umesh have worked so hard to establish a solid foundation for Maria Solina. Presently there is no way to donate internationally, but there are established Spanish and Indian bank accounts. I talked to Neneta about setting up a PayPal account, so hopefully when she goes back home to Spain she will get it going.
The current website for the NGO Shanga is http://www.shangaindia.org/ but I believe that it is in Spanish.
In terms of donating, it only takes a few dollars a month to make a difference. For example, the cost to feed 1 child is a mere 0.10 Euro cents per day. As I said earlier, Neneta's current wish list items are to provide running water and electricity, an english teacher for the school, and to bank some money for the Stage 2 and 3 buildings that will serve as dorms for the students and teachers. Neneta has funded the school solely on money that she has made back from donations from friends and family. She also receives nominal donations in a collection box placed on the wickets from clients at the bank where she currently works. She is going to be retiring at the end of this year, so she is a bit nervous about the loss of funds from the bank donantions.
I will list Neneta and Umesh's details in case you want to contact them to help out in anyway.
***For you dancers- any old dvds or cds that you have lying around would be greatly appreciated as Neneta wants to get a CD, tv and dvd player in the future so that the girls can watch dance videos to learn moves as there just isn't any funding available at this time for a dance teacher. I wanted to sponsor a teacher to come to the school and teach dance but the teacher Umesh talked to charges 3000Rs/ a month which is quite steep. I will be sending over some videos so if you want to get them to me I will post them all when I get home. They LOVED bellydance, but would take any videos as long as its some form of classical dance.
Neneta Herrero firstname.lastname@example.org
Umesh "Travel Fair" email@example.com
Check out Babaji in the movie Baraka...he looks SOOOO YOUNG!!!
I am sitting in a little cyber cafe in the industrial part of Bombay close to the international airport. The temperature is 32C and the air is dirty, hot, and sticky. I am writing with a much leaden heart as today is my last day here in this amazing country and I am truly very sad to see this portion of my life end. I had a really tearful goodbye with Martin this morning in Benaras, and have been feeling wobbly ever since. I did, however, perk up on the Indian Airways flight from Benaras to here as they were playing non-stop Janet Jackson videos from the late 80's and early 90's....only here in India!
I have spent the last few days in Benaras just chilling and getting last minute stuff done. Martin is heading to Bombay tomorrow as he is going back to London on Saturday, and sadly couldn't accompany me here as he has loads of stuff to do for his last night in Benaras. We spent the whole day yesterday running all over the place trying to tie up loose ends, and since this is INDIA it always takes much longer than anticipated. I had to try and figure out how to get all the stuff I accumulated over the last few days either in my bag or shipped back home. Sadly I had to leave a few things at Martin's friends' home (like my carpet :( and some clothes) but that only means that I will have to go back. And go back I will. Definitely next winter. My bag which was feeling pretty empty after I shipped stuff back home in Jaipur is completely and utterly filled to the brim and is weighing over 20 kgs. Once I get to Thailand I'll have to send another shipment home methinks.
I am off to Thailand tomorrow at 5:45 am. I have to be at the airport for 3:30am which means I should be up by half 2. I was awake almost the whole night last night because there was a crazy house party next door and I was also feeling laden with sadness so I spent the whole night tossing and turning. Not even the bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne that we drank made me pass out. So I'm feeling sleep deprived, sad as hell, hot and bothered, and happy. Quite the range of emotions. I have absolutely no idea about what I am doing in Thailand- I left my travel guide at home and my guest house that I had previously booked and paid for for my early March 3 night accomodation has not returned any of my emails re-confirming my booking. I don't know where I am going to go, where I will stay, even how much money I have at this point!!! But it's all a part of the adventure, even though I am sure that my parents are really unhappy with me at this moment after reading this! I am not feeling Thailand at all and I think I may see if I can come home early. I may try to get to Ko Samui and try to head to a yoga ashram there. I'm not into the big beach scene and since I have been spending alot of time thinking, being, and talking about spirituality...the whole beach scene makes me feel a bit sick. So I think yoga may be a good option, and I can also get some exercise!
I went to the temple last night at Manikarnika (burning ghat). It was a really special evening, not only because it was my last night in Benaras but also that the Baba Naganath (who I wrote about in my Kashivashi blog) had returned from a few weeks stay in hospital and was there to lead the evening AArti. He is still on his hunger strike for the Ganga, and is on day 240 of fasting. Naganath is obviously as skinny as a rake but he seems like he is doing alright and was moving around like anyone of us. It is really amazing to see the human body functioning under such deprivation. I think Naganath will take this to the very end...he is really commanding alot of attention for this cause. The biggest polluters of the mother Ganga are the US and Europe owned chemical plants that are dumping huge amount of toxic chemicals in the Ganga and rewarding the municipalities richly with lots of money to turn a blind eye. Never mind the fact that the Ganga is the holiest river in the world, and that the Hindu faith revolves around it. Martin shot a 10 minute video of Naganath in hospital talking about his hunger strike and the problem with the Ganges and it will be posted it on Youtube with English Subtitles. I will post the link when that happens.
I have so much to thank India for. This experience has been some of the wildest adventures that I could never have dreamed nor expected, and I can't believe that I ever had reluctance about actually coming to India. I have personally experienced some of the deepest sense of peace and happiness I have ever had here in India. On the flip side I have also confronted much negativity and darkness. I am grateful that I came back to Benaras in the end as I left with a bad taste in my mouth and my week back there has erased alot of those bad memories. I am leaving India with a major chai and biscuit addiction, an automatic head wiggle when talking, having Namaste burned into my vocabulary, a possible tuberculosis cough, and accepting that India really is the most chaotic, stressful, aggressive, beautiful, giving, hilarious, and maddening place in the universe! The land of organized chaos time and time again.
This country is a land of extremes- from the street child pulling burning plastic out of a midroad fire to the fancy SUV's that cruise the back lanes, from the dirty and matted hair of a tribal woman to the proud way she carries water back to the village. This country is technicolour at best and almost like an acid trip at times. The biggest gift I have received in this trip is the closeness I have come to accepting a level of faith and trust- I have never really thought much about faith in the past beyond the ordinary but here in India it is prevalent everywhere. Cars with dashboards Durgas screaming for a safe journey, the shopkeeper that won't make a sale until he finishes his opening Puja, the family kept shrines that dot most corners in Varanasi and represent almost every Hindu deity. Flashing fingers sparkling with astrology derived stones to increase wealth, shift dodgy planetary alignments, pearls to keep calm and full of self-assurance. Necks heavy with charged malas and charms. Babies with heavily kajaled eyes and red protection bracelets. From laughing Babaji's drinking 17 cups of chai to the heroin ridden ones shooting up in dark corners...this country is again rife with contradictions but is always governed by some level of faith.
I have had the immense opportunity of getting past the snide money maker Babas and meeting some of the real deal ones here in the temples. I have had alot of help from Martin who has undergone quite the spiritual transformation on this trip especially and I feel very lucky to have had such experiences. Being at the evening Aarti as the only woman in a dark corner of the Manikarnika temple is an experience that I will never forget. The acceptance I have been given has been most humbling and affirming. I didn't come here to find a Guru but instead came to realize that the real Guru is truly yourself.
This land is truly Incredible. Go and see it for yourself.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I went down to mommas and Anu's room and waited while they got ready. Momma had made some purchases in Ajmer the day before and was very excited to show me what she had bought. She was especially excited about this satin pink and red bedspread she had bought for Shazia's impending nuptials. It wasn't quite my taste, but I oohed and aahed anyway. Shazia and Sabah showed up about 20 minutes later and then we were off! Our driver was waiting outside for us, and the sky started to change colour as the sun came up. I felt a surge of excitement and felt again very honoured to be able to join this family on the trip to the Taj. We had a really nice drive- we were all very much awake with excitement and they were all dying to find out information about me and my life in Canada. I told them all the Hindi I had learned to date (not very much really!!) and they were keen to teach me more. I managed to learn numbers 11 - 20 on the trip, so I can now count to 20 in Hindi! Momma asked me to sing a song for them so I croaked out "O Canada" and then she sang some lovely traditional Hindi songs. The driver swerved sharply at one point and swore loudly. Shazia asked him what was wrong, and he pulled over on the shoulder, turned the car around and then drove back in the direction that we had just come from (and driving on the WRONG side of the highway. *sigh*). He once again pulled over on the shoulder and we saw a massive brown snake lying on the already heated pavement. It was HUGE!!! We all gotoutto take pictures...and then we realized that it was a 2 headed snake! It had a head on both ends of the body!! So WIERD! Some men working nearby came to over to see what we were all looking at and picked up the snake in the middle of its body. We all screamed ( I think I screamed the loudest...don't know why as I am not afraid of snakes) and they all started to laugh. We got back in the car and started driving again. We made it to Agra in about 4 hours. The second that we parked and gotoutof the car, the hassling began. Shazia handled it really well and arranged for us to get a rickshaw up to the main gate. Sabah was dying to ride a camel up to the gate, but the prices were very inflated and we all wanted to get going. I paid 750 rupees ($20) to get in while as a foreigner, but the girls all got in for 20 rupees. We made our way to the entrance, and then we saw the gleaming white marble. I got realy excited and a bit emotional as I have always wanted to see the Taj and here I finally was. We all walked through the gate in silence and then stood in wonder once we got through. The Taj is everything that you have ever pictured it to be. It stands on a pedestal so that the background is only sky. 4 red gates flank its sides, each one as regal as the next. It was very busy for a Tuesday so we had to move away from the gate quickly so thatothers could have a moment capturing the beauty. We took loads and loads of pictures, and momma kept on getting in trouble from the impatient girls who wanted to go inside. The heat was searing at midday and I was suddenly glad that Ileft my salwar kamis at home and opted for my short sleeved and cotton dress. As were were walking up the steps to go inside, Shazia pulled me back and said that she wanted to speak with me. She told me that she has a boyfriend in America who is Indian and that they wanted to marry each other. The problem was that he is a Christian, and Shazia's family are very strict Muslims. Shazia approached her family 1 year ago to try to convince them, and her parents both refused and forbade her to ever speak to him again. They had met in India when she was doing her MBA and they quickly became friends. He would come o the house and hang out withthe whole family, and momma actually really liked him. But once Shazia talked to her about marying him, he was quickly denied and forgotten. Shazia is panicking as her family has found her a husband who is also from Bangalore but is living in Quatar and the family wants the wedding to happen later this year. Shazia had been accepted to work in the US but with the global economic crisis, the job was taken away and given to a US citizen. She told me that the plan was for her to go to the US, they would marry, and then they would tell her family. But now that she has lost that opportunity there was diminishing hope. She asked me for advice which I really could not give as I come from such a different world and in my life I can marry anyone from anyplace that I choose. I felt really sad forher, and I got quite choked up while talking to her about this. Shazia said that this reason was why she came to Ajmer as she wanted to go to the Mosque and pray.
We held hands for a moment and I told her that I would pray for her that her family will change their minds..so if anyone of you need someone else to pray for PLEASE pray for Shazia!
We spent about an hour roaming around the Taj and taking turns relaxing in the shade. The gleaming white marble stayed refreshingly cool in the blinding sunshine. On our way back to the car, we stopped at one of the shops and drank endless cups of chai while momma shopped for carpets, more bedspreads and jewelery for Shazia's wedding. I was convinced to buy a carpet as it was only 2500 rupees so now I have got to carry a carpet around for the rest of my journey (I may give it to Martin to putin his Spanish house..I really can't fathom carrying this around for another month and I just sent off a parcel home). We got back in the car and most of us fell asleep. I was absolutely fried from the sun and felt exhausted. We then drove for about 1/2 hour to this other must see in Agra- the Itmad-ud-Daulah. This was a better experience for me as it was not very busy, we reached it just before sunset, and the environment was very peaceful. The Itmad-ud-Daluah Tomb is a Mughal mausoleum in the city of Agra in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Often described as 'jewel box', sometimes called the Baby Taj, the tomb of Itmad-Ud-Daulah is often regarded as a "draft" of the Taj Mahal. It was absolutely breathtaking at sunset as the suns fading rays litup the red stone and turned it a burned scarlet colour. I got many photrographs which I will post once I get onto a better computer later on. the girls all went inside the mosque while I sat and enjoyed some men singing and playing tabla.
We stayed until dark and then we had an episode with our rickshaw driver (no surprises really) aboutpayment. I couldn't understand what was happening as it was all done in flying Hindi but Shazia was really really mad and upset. That was a very unfortunate way to end the day. But we allpiled back into the car and made the long journey home. We gothome by 10:30 pm and I wentoff to bed after saying a sad goodbye to new family in Bangalore. They left early the next morning, as did Penny so I am all alone in Jaipur! I'm off though to Delhi on Thursday where I willspent 1 night at my friend Charlot's flat before catching a flight to Bhubanshwar to meet up with Martin in Puri.
Hope all is well with you, I'll post the pics once I get to Puri!
Monday, March 2, 2009
I am definitely paying for it now, although I actually craved and held down real food (aside from curd which has been my staple over the last fewdays) today so that is a good sign. Indeed.
So to sum up the last few days...I spent my last day in Pushkar hangingout at the Savitri temple and I met a really lovely and funny American couple at the top. We all headed down the mountain and went to visit Sundeep at his herbal tea cafe. We enjoyed a lovely glass of chai and then decided to get scooters and headout on a bit of a roadtrip. Sunny ended up taking us to the otherside of the desert to this other Shiva temple which was nestled in a valley between 2 masse mountains. Sunny took me on his bike which was great as the road was really sandy and rocky, and Amanda and Brian rented a scooter. The ride was amazing- we sailed past lush gardens growing marigolds, roses, and herbs which lit up my olfactory glands in the dusty heat. Children came out to whack our hands as we sailed past. We spent about 4 hoursout in the desert, and sat in this Shiva cave in meditation for about 20 minutes. It was so cool and dark inside the cave...we had to climb down stairs that were carved into rock to get to the main lingam.
I left Pushkar the next day with a ready and sound mind. I enjoyed my time there but was definitely ready to move on. I had my bus ticket and a lovely hotle courtesy of my loving father. I was feeling really il though so I was a bit worried about how I was going to fare on the journey. Well India has a way of messing with yourplans in the only way that it can- by turning everything upside down. I ran into a Baba that I had met on my first venture out to the desert, a realy sweet and young man who spoke fairly good English. I told him that I was ill (it was fairly noticable as I was a particularshade of green) and he blessed me with some mala beads and some other gifts. I invited him out to get somethingto eat (curd for me) and we sat and chatted for a while. He sudenly asked me to move closer to him and he then showed me a very infected testicle after telling me that he was in great pain. I had noticed him limping butdidn't want to ask any questions. I wasn't sure what to do, and an alarm bell went offinside me. I did want to help the guy- he had walked for 2 hours from the middle of the desert to Pushkar and was on his way to Rishikesh...so I gave him some money for medicine. He blessed me yet again, and I just really hope that he actually spends the money on meds...he does have a fairly significant chillum habit. I did checkw ith Martin though about this as he knows the Baba's way and he said that it was fairly standard to be so open with such a private partof the body..the naga babas wear no clothes and Babas are supposed to be above any sort of modesty. So I guess it was in order from his side toshow me this, although in my western way I was really shocked!
I made it down to the bus stop for 2:30- 30min before my scheduled bus departure. And waited...and waited...and waited....The men who sold me my ticket seemed totally uninterested in the fact that the bus was meant to be there for 3 and that I was geting picked up in Jaipur at 7 pm by my hotel. They also told me suddenly that the bus was going to stop in Ajmer for 45 minutes so that I would be arriving later than 7:30pm. I asked to call my hotel to let them know that I would be late on arival, but the men wouldn't let me "Madame they know this bus is always late". Well I sure wish I had known as I would have taken another mode of transit!! The bus finally showed up, and on I went only to discover that I was joining a tour group and that the stop in Ajmer was actually going to be for 1 hr and a half...enough time for everyone to go to the mosque in Ajmer! The driver took one of my bags, dropped it in the trunk and then asked for 20 rupees "Luggage charge madam" which I didn't pay for. In Ajmer I didn't get off the bus, and sat fuming on the side of the highway with an aching tummy. To top it off the bus driver and his sidekick took a liking to me and came to sit with me asking me all sorts of questions. Luckily there was an equally frustrated Japanese guy who took pity on me and asked me in broken english if I would like to get off the bus and split a taxi with him to Jaipur. I gotoff the bus and together we headed off to find a taxi driver who would takeus for a good price. We found someone to take us for 1350 rupees after bargaining for about 15 minutes and off we went. It was a fairly relaxing journey aside from the fact that we were almost killed a dozen of times by huge trucks carrying massive loads on their ends driving in our lane trying to pass the other trucks carying massive loads, and the fact that we listened to the same track the entire time to Jaipur. But we reached Jaipur in one piece (with me whispering the occasional OM NAMAH SHIVAYA) and were dropped off at the bus station at 6 pm. The driver wouldn't call my hotel to let them know that I arrived early so I headed to the nearest phone booth to call my hotel. I was surrounded by touts immediately and no amount of me telling them that I already 1) Had a hotel 2) Was going to be picked up momentarily would get them away from me. "Please madam good price I take you good hotel" "Madame why you like this? My hotel so nice, you first business for me today" "Madame I give you good ride for good price in rickshaw, ok please come". I walked out of the station with 5 men following me and more men joining the group "Madam you need rickshaw? I take you good price". I started to get very annoyed and angry and told them all to leave me alone, which none ofthem did. I'm starting to think that they just cannot hear nor understand the word "NO". I think the word "NO" means to ask again! I asked someone where the Traffic Jam Cafe (where my hotel driver was going to meet me) was, "Madam so far 10 minutes this way. I take you in rickshaw. Good price". This continued with many people jumping in to tell which way the cafe was "NO madam this way good restaurant cheap price" when in all actuality it was behind me the whole time! I finally found it after getting really frustrated and settled in momentarily before my driver came and swept me into his car. Pnce I arrived at the hotel Umaid Mahal, I was in heaven! The elaborate paintings on the outside as well as the gleaming gold front doors assured me that I had indeed found a litlle piece of paradise in the polluted and soiled capital of Rajasthan! Thanks DADDY! My bedroom is amazing and I have a lovely bathroom with 24 hr hot water and a proper shower..it's been weeks since I have had a proper shower...it's been bucket baths for ages!! I settled in nicely and slept very well. I spent most of Sunday in bed watching bad Indian tv (the dance shows are the WORST! And ALWAYS on!!) and sitting on my terrace having a read. I met a really lovely Indian family from Bangalore (3 daughters and 1 mama) who have now adopted me and are taking me with them to Agra on Tuesday to see the majestic Taj Mahal. I'm very excited to spend the whole day with them and get to know them, and they are excited to show me their country and one of the ancient 7th wonders of this world. I was taken out though by a rickshaw driver though and managed to spend a pretty penny on a strand of rubies- my present to myself for making it through one of the worst periods of my life- so I felt really indulgent but satisfied. It's a small strand but the necklace is gorgeous and I can finally say that I am done shopping here in India!
I made it outtoday with the rickshaw driver and saw a goodportion of this pink city. I have to say that I'm really noit very impressed- if I had come here first then I may have a different view but after being in the smaller Rajasthani cities I find this one a bit much. It's very loud, noisy, polluted, the people are very harrassing, and hot. I have been grabbed by street people begging while sitting in the rickshaw and everyone expects money everywhere I turn. I am finding it really exhausting especially in my sick state and my hotel has become my sanctuary from it all. I managed to see the City Palace, the minaret over looking Jaipur, the Maharaja gardens and "lake" (dust bowl with empty fountain", the monkey temple of the Sun God, and my favorite place the Maharaja Masoleum underneath the forts. It was absolutely stillthere with intricately carved crypts and tombs. Ispent about 45 minutes walking around escapingthe heat and admiring the carvings. I also found an eagle feather and loads of peacock feathers so that made for a nice scavenger hunt. My driver was really nice although I may have ruined his plans of taking me to "his friend's shop" as my visa card stopped working so suddenly I was whisked back to the hotel (with no complaints from me...I was DONE). I did manage to catch a preview of the impending Holi festival though on the Jaipur streets…a massive procession of people, decorated elephants, coloured camels, marching bands, flying marigolds, blasting music, and sailing colours came down the Jaipur streets. I was very excited to see the procession, and hope that the Holi festival will be as colourful in Puri as it will be here in Rajasthan!
I’m still feeling very ill though and have started to take antibiotics unfortunately. Hopefully I’ll be able to eat something other than curd in the next fewdays…and I don’t want to feel like this when I am viewing the Taj!