Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bombay Bound

On our final day in Arambol, just getting ourselves sorted for our big trip up north to Varanasi. I'm a little bit sad as our week here has been really good for us, for our senses, and just getting back to normal after our experience in kollur. The week here in Arambol has been really chilled and relaxed, lots of yummy fresh food, yoga, swimming in the Arabian Sea and getting really hardcore body work massage from Martin's friend Adam, who is amazing. Adam really gets into the muscle, deeper than deep and does lots of painfully deliciousl work. I was covered in bruises the other after I finished my session with him, but for the first time in years I have no neck pain and my bodyfeels less rigid! So 2 thumbs up to Adam! Definitely worth checking him out if you pop over this way. We've spent quite a nice amount of time with Adam and his Kundalini teacher partner Virium over the past week, so its been really lovely.
Yesterday Martin and I decided to rent a cherry red Royal Enfield motocycle and take it for a ride across norther Goa. So off we went, and embarked on a7 hr adventure without any clue where we were headed.
We drove through shady coconut groves, past elementary schools (with sweet girls in matching uniforms and red bows in their braids), through small villages, past vast lagoons of turquoise water until we reached the ferry (complete with a completely pagal ranting local!) which consisted of a rusted out hull of a boat, to take us across the estuary to the next state of Majharasta. From there we peeled up steep hills and across wide open lanes until we ended up at a beautifully neary empty white sand beach where we swam in the waves and relaxed our bums. It was so peaceful there, devoid of any beach shack restos and pumping music. Eagles soared overhead while the lone dog cantered down the sand. It was exquisite.
After catching some rays (my feet are finally looking less white!) we continued on, keeping the coast on our left shoulder and sticking to jungle paths. We finally found ourselves in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere, where we were probably the only whities around for miles. We stopped for the best cup(s) of chai I have had to date in India this trip and gorgeous samosas, trying to block out the non-so-subtle curiousity of us standing on the corner, Martin talking Hindi and me munching samosas. After our delectable meal, we hopped back on and headed back to the ferry, only getting a little lost on the way back. We got back at nearly 7 pm wind blown, dusty and supremely happy.
We are off to Bombay tonite on an overnight bus which means we should get there at 8:30am Saturday morning. We are going to chance our arm that we can get on a train to Varanasi tomorrow, but my foot is down that since it's a looong 28hr journey, I refuse to travel 3A/C (so much for the adventurous hippy I am!!). So if we cannot get on 2 or 1AC, then we'll spend a night in Bombay and head out on Sunday. The original plan was to fly to Varanasi, but the flights are ridiculously expensive (starting at nearly 10,000 Rs) so its the long awaited (dreaded?) train journey. At least 1 have lots of boring uni reading to do!
Sending you all some Goan love and sunshine.
Ashley xxxxxxxxxxx

Sunday, January 23, 2011


We made it back to Arambol in 1 piece today, we are both really tired and deficient in vitamins from Kollur. The train ride here was epic...picture the busiest train you have ever seen, picture it really really filthy, and then times it all by 200%. Yup, that was our train ride from Karnatika back to Goa. Martin warned me that it would be a real local train (we had caught the wrong train down to Karnatika on the way down and aside from us being squished, it was no big deal) but when it rolled up and everyone started to swarm into the doors, I took a deep breathe of what would be the last hint of fresh air for the next 5 hours. Trying to follow Martin inthrough the door was enough of an issue, but to top it all off there was a stubborn woman sitting right at the foot of the door refusing to stand up so everyone was trying to push around her and carrytheir heavy luggage over their heads to avoid hitting her. Martin tried to get her to move but she was a stubborn thing so there she sat for half the journey until a bunch of women had a proper go at her and she eventually stood up, only to sit again on the last leg of the trip. This chaos inside the train was recreated at every stop until we got to Gokarna, where many people got off. Martin and I found ourselves holed up between the 2 toilets, which after the presumably long journey prior to us getting on, did not smell very nice. Martin has no sense of smell so he got off lucky, while I on the other hand did all I could to avoid breathing.
We arrived in Margoa and caught a taxi that took us back to Arambol, where we spent the rest of the day and night cleaning up the house, washing our clothes, having a dip in the sea and then having a languid dinner enjoying real proper food for the first time in a week.
We were both sad to leave Kollur today.
The experiences that we had in Kollur was truly amazing, and we really got into a nice routine of arising early (6am), having a hot (!!) bucket wash before heading off to the temple where we would get our flowers and do our perambulations around the inner sanctum before joining the queue and going into see the Goddess. We often stayed to watch and join in on the procession, and then went to have something to eat before going back to our guest house and sleeping for a few hours. We repeated this all in the evening 12 hours later.
Kollur is a tiny village in the jungle, and it is a very conservative village. We were pretty much the only westerners in the village, aside from a few that occasionally ventured outof a nearby Seat of Living temple just outside of town. We got loads of attention, even moreso when we were at the temple. I found it difficult to concentrate while doing my perambulations as I could see a massive line of people watching us, and little kids waving trying to catch my gaze. I worried that some Hindus would be insulted seeing us in their spiritual place of worship, but Martin often commented on how people are probably more often then not happy and surprised to see how serious we are about the practice. We met many people at the temple who were really excited and happy that we were at Shree Mookambika.
The only downside about Kollur was the food. I was warned before going that the place is perfunctory eating...proper pilgrim food...but I hoped that Martin would be wrong. Well I was wrong!
I quickly went off thalis after my 2nd day, and to my delight were taken to a dabba (bythe Baba and his partner) where they served masala dosas and idliis all day long. So I started to order dosas and then went off them. And then moved onto to parathas, and went off them. I completely lost my appetite to eat, and spent ages trying to swallow bits of idlii and sambar. Martin was much more stoic than I and was able to keep up his appetite, even though he was tiring of the food. There was a huge lack of fresh fruit and veg there aside from bananas and apples, so we started to feel a bit unwell from that. Martin was really excited when he found bits of cooked tomato in his thali subjii one day!!! I did have a moment of imagination about lemon sugar crepes, so I went and found some lemons. We ordered parathas and I went to work envisioning lemon sugar crepes...only in the form of a paratha. While it got many curious looks from everyone else in the restaurant, I was happy as a clam...for 1 meal.
Martin took me to the Saurparnika river, which is a gorgeous river in the jungle - proper Jungle Book style- that apparently comes from the Kodachadri mountain (which we visited the next day..moreon this later). I was worried about snakes as we made our way through the jungle to the banks of the river, but there was none to be seen and Martin and I had the most beautiful place to ourselves. There was a small waterfall nearby that I though looked exactly like all the Indian waterfalls you see on plates and on posters. The water was cool and refreshing, and even though I had to swim fully clothed, I was completely rejuvenated. We spent a good part of the day there just reveling in the beauty. A group of monkeys came by and Martin fed them bananas. It was a lovely day, and so nice to be away from the noisy and chaotic village.
The next day after going to Shree Mookambika, we took a jeep up to
Kodachadri mountain, where it is said that the Saint of Kollur sat and meditated for 15 years until he could see a ray of light (Shree Mookambika). When he went to the ray of light, he found a massive gold disk, which is now in the pakara of Shree Mookambika.
Once we got to the top of the mountain, Martin led me uphill for about 45 minutes, stopping to pay homage to a Ganesh temple along the way until we got to the top where we came across another temple. There was a priest in the temple, and we had a brief little puja with him before venturing on. Martin wanted to get to the Saint's meditating post, and I, unaware of what lay ahead, agreed. Suddenly, for the next 30 minutes we were scaling down rocky crevices, holding onto tree roots and hiking uphill. I got very scared and tried to back outof it, but Martin urged me on and so finally we made it, after climbing up a rickety ladder and slippery rock face.
I was pretty grumpy at this point, so sadly the experience at the shrine wasn't as special as I would have liked it to be, but at the end of the day I made it - even though I was in flip flops and deathly afraid!
Kollur was an amazing place to be, and I am so glad that we spent so much time there together. It was a really bonding experience, and we had alot of really special and amazing things happen to us there. As we drove off this morning, I felt a bit of a tug on my heart but remembered that this place has always been and always will be so we can come back at anytime. And now we are off on a new adventure!
We will stay in Arambol til Friday or Saturday getting massages, eating fruit salads, and doing yoga, before we head off to Varanasi. I probably won't write much this week so check back on the weekend.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Holy COW!

Finally made it to a computer, and the keyboard is all mixed up so pls excuse any spelling mistakes!

So I am here. Finally. It only took an extra week in the end for me to sit and wait in London for mz visa to India to arrive, but it was definitely worth the wait.

I left London on Jan 13 and flew direct on Jet Airways (definitely recommended!) to Bombay where I had a 3 hour lazover before catching a 4 am flight to Goa. Stepping off the plane in Bombay was a shock to my system as I really did not have anz idea of when I was going to be flzing out so when I got my visa, suddenly I was off without any preparation. Leaving soggy and grey London for humid sticky Bombay was a shock. And suddenly I was here.

Flying to Goa was a quick easy 1 hr flight where I was fed delicious idlii and sambar. And then touch down at 5 am to arrive in the arms of Mr Martin Pennels. We were thrilled to be reunited, and to put the past week behind us.

Martin had hired a car to pick me up, so it was a smooth and easy drive to Aarambol. Goa was still dark but hot and sticky, and the streets were alreadz crawling with activity. I commented to the driver how 24 hrs India really is, and he laughed saying that in Goa this is empty compared to life in Delhi and Mumbai.

Martin and I spent Friday and Saturday in Arambol meeting up with friends and eating reallz well. Lots of fruit and salads. And of course lemon sodas. Arambol is full of tourists, but apparentlz is quieter due to the visa changes that have come into place. The main tourists are Russian, and thez have made Arambol very expensive as they refuse to barter, which means that Goans can always charge more and get what thez charge. We are staying at Fiz"s home outside of Arambol, so its verz peaceful and quiet.

Martin and I decided to leave Goa and head to Kollur, home of Shree Mookambika goddess, in the jungle for 6 days and then return to GOa for a few days on our way up north. So we headed to Margoa to catch a train that would take us to Karnatika state. We fought our waz onto the local train and sat smooshed between Indians. On the seat that 3 would fit most comfortably, we had 5 or 6. We were definitely the odd people out on the train, which commanded much attention.

I had a lovely conversation with a woman and her family from Bombay traveling to Karnatika for a 3 daz pilgrimage. She was thrilled with Martin"s Hindi, and with my studying. We talked for a long time, after which, upon disembarking, grasped my hand thrust a little bottle of nail polish in it and said she would pray for us. It is in these moments in India where I am always amazed bz the generosity of people here, wanting so much to reach out and make a connection and always leave a little gift.

We exited the train in Udapi onlz to find out that we were at the wrong stop and had to hire a taxi to take us to Kollur. It was night and the air was thick with smoke, incense, and humidity. I fell asleep onlz to be awoken by Martin who pointed out a festival happening in a village where a small child was balancing on a tightrope to a throng of musicians. It made me think of the book "A Fine Balance". I fell back asleep until we arrived in Kollur.

Kollur is a tinz little town in the jungle. It boasts 2 small high streets and one of the most holy sites in the South of India ' Shree Mookambika. The Goddess sits inside a little shine inside a big temple and is adorned with flowers, beautiful clothes and a huge emerald on her chest. People come day and night to worship her and to ask for assistance.

We are the only Western people here aside from a lone woman who I just saw last night.

We get alot of attention here, and it makes me very uncomfortable. Not only do I worry about how I am perceived, but I also worry about my actions in the temple. Martin tells me not to worry as the bus loads of pilgrims from other parts of India who are Hindu have no idea what they are doing! We attend the morning AArti at 7 am, and the evening AArti at 7 pm. I like the morning one the best as it isnćt quite so busy, but there is still a heaving throng regardless of the time of day. The first time I saw the Goddess I was so focused on not falling over bz all the people pushing me that I did not have a chance to take in what beauty I have seen and then it was all over. Martin told me to ignore everyone else, no matter how much they are pushing. Its over in a matter of seconds, so those few moments are very important.

The first night we attended AArti, we were befriended by a travelling Sadhu and his partner - his May. Thez were from Madras and were quite old, but so unbelievablz lovely. This friendship also garnered the attention of manz people, which again made me uncomfortable. We ate dinner with the couple at the Temple and met up with them on Tuesdaz morning before thez headed to Madras. Thez blessed us manz times and kept pulling little gifts out of their वोर्न बैग स्तुफ्फेद विथ ओद्दितिएस। थे वेरे अ लोवेली कोउप्ले एंड इ वास साद तो सी थेम गो।
Today is Wednesday andwe have just been to the temple. We have discovered a delicious restaurant in town that serves food other than plain thalis ("meals") so I am over the moon. Masala dosas, parathas, idlii all at all hours. Ićm thrilled.
Not much on our agenda except a temple inaugeration at 12 noon and then evening Aarti. Life is reallz quiet here and there is nothing to do when the heat is at its peak. The heat is relentless and can be quiet chokingly hot. We sleep for hours in the afternoon for this reason.
We are here until Sunday and then will head back to Goa for a few days.
Hope you are all well and happy. Big love.