Friday, 30 November 2012

Rishikesh pt 2 - And then there was yoga

 



Rishikesh is a town of three parts. Part 1 the main town is shit!  Dirty, smelly and uncool.  Part 2 is the opposite side of the river and a bit shit (mainly due to taxi’s and copious amounts of bikes) but not so dirty and smelly. Part 3. Where we are, is not shit, is not smelly (well, comparatively) and not dirty. The bloody maniacal taxi jeep drivers still scream around the roads like rally drivers and the bikes still appear out of nowhere and frequent topple their riders and 4 passengers, but this is all in much more manageable numbers so it is possible to walk side by side the streets quite often. The street we live, eat, practice yoga in and generally hang out in is comparatively short and situated in an area called Laxman Julha. Lots of travellers, funky cheap restaurants and little clothes shops and a really laid back feel to it. We have become complete hippies! We typically wear sandals, yoga trousers (mine white and baggy linen, Rachels vary) loose tee shirt, sarongs made into scarves, another layer of some sort and a big old blanket that we wear like a poncho to keep us warm. Showering and hair combing have, it must be said, slipped somewhat lately
We have fitted into a daily routine of 3 hours of various yogic practice – physical, spiritual and beathing  from 8am till 11am then breakfast overlooking the Ganges in our favourit ‘Little Buddha’ restaurant till about 12 then back the room for a little snooze and tidy up.  At  1.30pm we either go wandering the ghats, along the riverside beaches or sit about drinking honey, lemon and ginger drink and reading on a rooftop or balcony. About 6.30pm in the evening we are back with our yoga teacher ‘Tuna’  for another 1.5 to 2 hours more yogary stuff. We are not what you might conventionally called bendy but we are getting there -  albeit in a sore, aching manner. Our classes are great, fast moving and very personal as there is just Rachel, I and Tuna’s student. – Rahul. We have had him to ourselves for 5 days so we have developed a good relationship and he has pushed us hard so  we have been laying on blocks, standing on our heads and stretching ourselves in to impossible shapes that we might not have been able to have achieved had we been part of a large
 
class. Tuna is petite, pretty and quiet spoken and would definitely be my first choice for Mowgli in a stage version of Jungle Book . He takes times to instruct on the theory, correct our pose’s and after seeking acceptance will take a hands on approach and push us even further (see pics in the gallery). Yoga has been so satisfying both spiritually and physically for us and we are sure we wish to continue using some of the techniques.  We have learnt some amazing breathing excercises using  resonating sound that calm and invigorate us and today experienced ‘Netti’ – A Nasal clearing practice where warm salty water is poured into one nostril and after sloshing around in your sinuses comes gushing out of the other. The pics give the full story of how this feels although the end result is much more satisfying than you would expect.
The Ganges (Ganga) is quite beautiful here. With a strange turquoise colour to the water, rapids that rush over large boulders, sandy beaches  and wide ghats. The sun turns the water different colours at different times of the day and the slight haze that pervades over all gives the place a feel of mystery.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Rishikesh part 1

 


Rishikesh – 3 day Intensive Tantra course

Yep, you read correctly. A course on the enjoyment and control of erotic energy making a stronger man and an amazing woman. Tantric ways of awakening the 7 Chakras and control of the Kundalini.

A free introductory lecture seemed like a good idea. And after we ended the 3 hours by walking through an ‘Angel Tunnel’ – being touched and guided as you walked, eyes shut, through a human tunnel – we decided that the Andre the Guru and his assistant looked much happier than Randy so why not give this one a go. We were first to sign up.

Next morning the still curious and mildly cynical Chris and Rachel turn up to a class of 18 very mixed people. From ‘Thor’ the slightly grubby looking Norwegian with a front tooth  missing, short fluffy hair and a pot belly. To a squeaky clean, completely embracing the India theme Wendle and Kiara. He’s a black English guy wearing the whole orange outfit and he has an idea he is a stallion and she is a slightly built Italian girl who looks as though she has never brushed her hair.

First day was quite a lot of mumbo jumbo about Chakras and energy moving through you which neither of us was feeling. Though some in the group professed to seeing auras and feeling heat in their groin. The cynic in us was growing by the hour and it reached it’s pinnacle in the awakening of the Sexual Chakra which was through meditation. So we’re all sat in a circle cross legged, holding hands and he puts on the music and this 1970’s porn music blasts out of the speakers with lots of groaning and building of crescendos in the music. It was like a Benny Hill sketch. And even more amazingly some of them actually believe this did something for them…..

We left the class again questioning our choice of yogic course and whether or not to return. But we did.

Next day started quite well with being taught 5 Asanas (Yoga moves) to awaken the Chakras. Not sure about the spiritual element but it was good to actually do some sort of exercise. This was followed by a relaxation meditation laying on the floor. Chris woke from this like a dog with two dicks. All his Chakras were going and his sexual one was wide awake and raring to go and the Kundalini was rising. I still had no stirring in anything!

The meditation in the afternoon was a ‘gift’ to the chaps to awaken the male ‘Shiva’ element of the sexual Chakra. Again we’re sat cross legged in a circle holding hands. I am one side of Chris and Andrea (a busty, well practiced in Tantraa Romanian woman) is on his other side. The music begins and this time it’s Trance music with, again, an obvious beat and so loud you can feel the vibrations through the floor. And after 15 minutes of this the vibrations from the music are not all Chris is feeling. He tells the whole group how he feels a heightened sense of arousal and how he felt Andrea’s three orgasms!!So at least one of knows what tantric sense is like, even if it was whilst holding my hand. Chris now believes this was definitely the right course to chose.

Unfortunately the afternoon was a mixed bag with a high of hugging everyone. How could you do this sort of course without having a hugging session. The point was to send pure spiritual love from your Heart Chakra – almost another WTF moment except it was actually a lovely warm, fuzzy, fluffy feeling with some great huggers in the group. The low was the breathing exercise whilst clenching your perineum. This was apparently sublimating your sexual energy and pushing it up to your third eye Chakra. It felt like pelvic floor exercises and sounded like a load of old bollocks. My Dad will be proud of my cynicism and Anita will be shaking her head here!

The Third day proves to be another good day for Chris. Andrea gravitates to Chris for the morning meditation which is supposed to be moving energy from your 3rd Chakra to your 5th Chakra. Not directly to do with the 2nd Sexual one but it seems that Chris’ sexual magnetism is working even better today. Andrea has even bigger orgasms which continue after the meditation and which she describes as volcanic. The guy on her other side likens them not to a volcano but a nuclear explosion. Could this possibly be affectation or am I just missing the point of all this??

The fact that a large percentage of this is the power of suggestion is highlighted when we are supposed to consecrate our days actions and more importantly offer the fruits of our actions to the universe before having tantric sex. Talk about taking the spontaneity out of it! Anyway, Andre had told us what to offer as our consecration and then to wait in a neutral state for 2 mins for the answer in the form of a sensation directed through the Crown Chakra. We all sat and did this and he then  asked around the circle for feedback. Most people had some sensation, surprisingly of tingling to their head, including a Canadian woman who first confessed to drifting off and not really knowing what she was supposed to be doing. Then continued to repeat what every one else had said as her experience. Now I may be cynical but surely that’s more evidence of people being swept along and wanting to feel  something. Completely bonkers and none of them even Indian.

The final meditation was the ‘gift’ for the woman. The women sat in a circle facing out holding hands, the men were in circle around them. The idea was for the men to see the inner beauty in all the women and the women to feel pure and lovely. Weirdly half the women, mostly around Andrea, cried and felt like the mother of the universe. Chris was sitting opposite me staring so I just kept winking and giggling and ended up with dead legs. Some of the men in the group were seeing a huge white shaft of light soaring from the group of women. How strange….Andre’s suggestion that this might happen was actually happening.

Anyway, I think that’s enough of my cynicism. We both enjoyed the 3 days and had plenty of fun doing it which is the point of these things. I have 60 pages of notes to read to try and help me understand my shortfall in the Tantric way and I am sure Chris is more than willing to guide me on the path to this higher spiritual experience.

 

 



Stuff


 
 
Stuff one - Mortality
We have, so far, seen dead on the road: Birds (various), Dog (Black), Cow (Brown and white), Man (Brown)….Yep, a cow and a man! The cow was just being a dead cow with no one taking much notice. The man, however,  had a crowd of people around him looking concerned and pointing at something or other whilst one officious looking and plainly compassionate man picked the mans head up by the hair and then dropped it. This is no doubt a medically advised method to determine death at a road traffic accident site.

Stuff two – Railway stations

Waiting on station to go to Rishikesh met my second (to chat to) monk. Sona was a sheepherder in a nomadic Tibetitan family until 12 when he became a monk. He was uncertain of his train station and asked (OF ALL PEOPLE) us. We tried to enact the tanoy announcement for him so he would know when his train arrived 4 hours later – Basically the tanoy repeatedly goes”Ta-dahhhhh” then the announcement is maid in various indian dialects and English. Our monk sadly just looked confused as Rachel and I kept going “Ta-Dahhhhh, bibly bibly bibly etc. He spoke poor English but we chatted about his prayer beads (he reads the whole string 10 to 15 times a day), his brothers and sisters, the monastery he was at and age. He giggled a lot for a 44 year old scholar and tried to teach us some Tibetan (which we have forgotten now). He wore red robes and looked very serene.

Saw a couple of goats on the railway lines munching away at bits of grass growing between the sleepers. When the train came through on the line they were on they just casually moved to the other line. Also, people do not bother walking up the station to the stairs, up the stairs, over the bridge and down the stairs the other side. They just jump down onto the tracks and walk from one platform to the other.

At a station the other day we saw two men having a wash under standpipes between the tracks. They folded their clothes up on the platform. Jumped down onto the tracks and washed in their underpants whilst hundreds of other passengers just got on with their day as if nothing weird was happening.

A motorbike driven by a young man went tearing along the platform, beeping people to get out of the way at 7.00pm yesterday. No one protested. They just moved out of the way and laughed at my surprised face.

When you are on a platform in India at 3am it is busier than Colchester station at rush hour. There are children running around, families huddled together, people with huge amounts of luggage and hundreds of sleeping bodies swaddled in blankets to step over.

Stuff three – Service

Here in many hotels there are interesting variations on what customer service is. At this particular hotel the waiter and cashier operate an interesting slant on the concept of “service with a smile” by offering “service with a snort”. Whilst we sat at our table 5 metres from the service station the waiter alternatively snorted, blew out from his nose into his fingers and finally, the piece da resistance (if I could spell it) was hawking up as he handed over our porridge. Actually as he handed it over “Your…Sckaaarrggghhhhnngggffthh…Porridge sir, thank you, thank you”

Couple this with public snorting snitting, hawking, snotting and cow shitting it is pretty tricky to have a walk down a street in Rishikesh without your feet experiencing some form of fluidity when touching the ground

Stuff four - Interesting

We were in a Laxmi temple today and there was a deity which was a woman with a moustache and another with a beard – Amritsar plagerists

Stuff five – I’ve got the horn

Your average indian driver, I would conservatively say, spends at about 1 hour a day with his finger firmly pressed on the horn of his vehicle. The horn means get out of the way, look out I am coming, alright mate, thanks, excuse me whilst I overtake on an impossibly small road packed with obstacles and any other number of beeping related communications. It is without doubt one of the most annoying things about India.

Stuff six – House proud

Today I watched with admiration whilst a mobile stall owner swept the dirt patch in front and under the cart from which his produce was sold. The dirt was swept to a precise boundary where it was no longer considered his concern.
Stuff seven – When Sadhus go bad

There is a route we walk most days in Rishikesh to and from our tantric class where we pass about 100 Sadhus. Sadhus are religious men and women who have forsaken all worldly goods and rely on Mother Ganga to provide for them. She, the Ganga (Ganges) seems to have less to do with their well-being than the fruits of their constant bloody begging. But who knows. Theres rivers move in mysterious ways. Oh another thing about a large amount of these so called holy men is that they are stoned off their tits most of the time and can nearly all be seen toting on joints with their shabby, bearded co-horts at any time of the day. Mysteries of the Cosmos are, in my limited experience, better appreciated when you have a large quantity of dope to hand. Anyway, the point of this was not to suggest that many of these mystics are addicts but to report that on this morning’s walk where we saw two of these holy men fighting. One had a stick and it was all very exciting. If I only had my camera to hand I could have had my second priceless picture (the cow shagging the bike being the first). So much for following the path of enlightenment and peace hey?

Phool Chatti Ashram

 

Be warned, this blog contains language of an adult nature and should not be read by the easily offended.

WHAT THE FUCK! Those were the exact words both Chris and I said when we arrived at the Ashram. After a drive here that was on a par with the one down a mountain that brought out my scared shitless face we were met by a tall American guy called ‘Randy’. What more do I need to say. The little cynic in me was sitting on my shoulder poking me with her trident. We’re given the key to our room and told it has great view. And that is about all it has. The room is very, very, very , very basic. It is unnecessarily spartan with 2 single beds (bit of plywood with foam on) and a candle. What The Fuck!

The toilet is shared with 4 other rooms on the same level as us so 6 people. We did know this but it’s a concrete room with a sink with single tap, and shower with single tap and you guessed it…..a cold tap. It’s about  14 degrees and there’s no hot water!

We arrived about 8.40 and breakfast is at 9 so we take our bags to our room and head to the terrace for breakfast. We are given a metal plate, metal beaker and spoon which we are told is for all our meals and is our responsibility to look after for our whole visit. The kitchen area for washing these up has a cold tap and a sponge with a bar of soap to clean this with.

Breakfast is ok, porridge, pasta(?!) and fruit with chai. But there is silence for every meal and this first one feels forced and really uncomfortable. When the programme begins proper there is silence from 9pm after meditation, until after lunch at 1pm the following day. That’s 16 hours – What the Fuck! Oh I forgot about the prayer before breakfast – Hope that’s explained or that will seem a bit weird too. Anyway, all seems a bit more basic than necessary and I’m sure Randy is doing ok and has hot water!

What the Fuck! There really is no signal.

Just decided I need to get a hat. I can wet wipe my body but if I don’t wash my hair I’ll have to cover it. Chris is asking about blankets and linen and washing clothes. Got to give it a go.

Got the bus to Laxman Juhla this afternoon as leaving Ashram is discouraged once program begins. When we get back we are ‘told off’ for not telling anyone that we were not going to be there for lunch – What the Fuck!

Have a nap, tired from travelling and wake up cold, grumpy, dirty and very despondent. Chris has filled buckets with hot water from an outside tap and is suggesting I shower. To which I insist that I only showered yesterday morning and I have wet wipes. I can manage with them for a week!! How ridiculous. I do eventually stand in the cold, dark (power is off) concrete shower block, take my clothes off and throw scoopfuls of warm water over myself. It does actually make me feel better. Chris is good with sulky children.

By the evening Chris is having serious collywobbles and I’m struggling to bring him out because I feel so negative too. We decide, again, that we have to try or we cannot make a balanced decision. That was until dinner. It was 8 of us round an open pit fire. Sounds lovely, peaceful, therapeutic. Reality –the smoke blows in my face and my eyes sting and my freshly washed hair smells. We sit cross legged which is not the easiest way to eat and we have or metal plates on the floor into which food is ladelled and warm water is poured into our metal beaker – What the Fuck! We all sit looking pretty unhappy, sad and awkward. I keep thinking about farting and almost giggle. Honestly one of the worst evenings I have ever had.

After this we both decide, before we have even got back to our cell, that we have chosen to come here and we now have chosen not to stay. The thought of a whole week, every meal in silence, looking miserable, no laughing. Unbearable. So the Ashram was a bit of a non starter for us. We are going to Rishikesh and hope to find a hotel with hot and cold running water and fluffy towels. Perhaps we’re not ready, don’t have a need or anything to look for. Or perhaps we have it all in each other already? Who knows.

 

Monday, 19 November 2012

On the top of the world!


 

 
We are here in Mcleod Gang. A little Tibeten style village set at over 6000ft in the Northern Mountains of India with views of the Western Himalayas. This village is notable as it is the residence of the exiled Tibetan Government and home of the Dalai Lama. This place is wonderful and feels totally different from everything we have seen of India so far. First is the indigenous population is 50% Indian and 50% Asian, The air is clean and a lot cooler as we are high in the mountains, the attitude of shop sellers etc is far more laid back and the architecture is generally three plus stories with pitched roofs and it is all cleaner and painted with swathes of multi-coloured bunting hanging in the streets. It is really very cool and feels like India doing Scotland or the Lake district. Tourists are more plentiful here but are outdoorsy types with average age being older rather than young back packers. We both love it and both said on first inspection we could live here. Our hotel is rambling and we have room overlooking the mountains which has picture windows on each side. Days are pleasantly warm and nights are cool with us having to have blankets and wear shoes and fleeces for the first time in 6 weeks. We are surrounded by magnificent views of valleys stretching away in the misty distance, thick forests covering the hillsides and towering mountain peaks rising above all into the blue sky. We walked for about 10km day before yesterday through the mountains - stopping for the occasional cup of chai from little tea houses teetering on precipices overlooking the vertiginous valleys.

Yesterday we did another trek (this time starting earlier with already screaming muscles). This time we set off up the mountain to just shy of 9000ft where there was a green plateau on which were scattered a handful of huts and makeshift chai shops. We feel on top of the world – well almost because the next mountain towers probably another 3000 ft above our heads and is the Himalayas proper. No vegetation and so imposing it takes your breath (which is already short, away). The sky is blue the vista stretches for miles, the air is sharp and our bodies tingle with the excitement of what we are seeing. We trek down but cheat for the last 1200ft and manage to get the scariest cab ride down a track that is just boulders and gravel. The car has jacked up suspension and is just a little compact Suzuki or similar. The track is 7ft wide with a sheer drop on one side and rocky outcrops on the other. I saw a new face of Rachel on the way down, her scared shitless face! My leg still has claw marks in it. I put on a brave face for her but it was pretty scary so the seat next to me to the brunt of my tightly gripping hand. Eventually we get to the village and cannot get out of the car quick enough, both thanking the driver for not killing us!

Little note on Mcleod Ganj. Beautiful as it is the place is riddled with sweet looking dogs that turninto maniacal, howling arses at night and bark from 11.00pm till 6.00pm without stopping. Each replying to its echo or the echo of a dozen other of the furry little f*****s. Second point is that everything Knitted is available here. Socks, hats, jumpers, trousers, shirts, coats and willy warmers (the wool is not the soft sort so bugger that)

Final comment before we leave this lovely place. Today the Dalai Lama is giving a talk and we had hoped to go and listen but travel problems and timings have prevented it . We are now heading off to our Ashram so will be silent until the 30th November as technology is strictly no go.

 

Dogs barking

Long hall  up mountain glat grass restuarants

Dhali lalme

 

Amritsar Extra




Extra, extra, read all about it….bearded ladies and girls with penises!!!

Felt the need just to say a little extra about the extra that is Amritsar. Certainly not anything we have seen anywhere else anyway.

Firstly the bearded ladies. I saw a middle aged couple walking round the Golden Temple. He was tall, heavy set, wearing a turban with a luscious black curly beard. She was shorter, still slightly rotund with an ample bosom and also had a luscious black curly beard. I did a double take, Chris didn’t see and I thought maybe, just maybe I was mistaken. That is until that evening there was group of 5 walking toward us, 4 men in usual attire, turban, beard etc. and what looked like the matriarch of the family with her head covered by a scarf  in the middle of them. What she had omitted to do was shave or cover her grey, rather shapely long beard. Again Chris missed this so we had to run down the street to get ahead of them and walk back towards them to see. They in the mean time had gone into a Sari shop, evidence enough I think, and we had to peer into the window to make sure we had seen correctly. And Chris concurred, she had a fully fledged beard!

Another peculiar sight only to Amritsar for us was waiting on the train platform when a pretty  little girl of about 5 or 6 years old, with long dark hair in a plait stood on the very edge of the platform and pee’d. that in itself is not unusual at train platforms but what was unusual was she had a cock. She stood and unzipped her fly and pee’d from a cock, not a pink shewee but a real one. We both saw this and were both a little amazed and felt it worthy of a note. I can only conclude that Amritsar has a high proportion of Hermaphrodites!!

Final note that is not really headline but is quite relevant after Chris’ tooth trouble in Jaisalmer. Walking along the dusty, busy road full of hawkers selling sweet potatoes cooking on coals, shoe shine men, stalls selling shawls and blankets, postcards and roasted peanuts when we spot a dentist. But not an ordinary dentist. This one has a rug on the side of this fumey, dusty, busy road and has his display of dentures laid out for you to choose. I must add that they are old discarded parts of other peoples dentures. The dentist was examining someones mouth as we passed by, presumably for a fitting. Chris was reluctant when I suggested he might be able to get some help with his broken tooth…I have no idea why.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Amritsar's stunning golden temple




Blimey, What a bloody effort to get here but boy was it worth it. In short, the journey went like this - 3 hours at station, 18 hours on train (sharing a single bunk), 20 mins walking from train station along tunnels to the Metro. 1 hour on the Delhi Metro (very clean and lovely), 20 mins in a Tuk Tuk, 20 mins on a shuttle bus, 4 hours in an airport, 1.5 hours on a little twin prop plane and 30 mins in a cab. Ah the joy of travelling. You know what though? Rachel and I have got so used to India time we were really chilled and cool the whole way.

Oh just so you know that Rachel is not the only one to do something stupid. I left the Ipad on the little provisions stall we had shopped at. About 100 yards up the road a little man started calling us, he was being called by another man ( a little bigger though) who in turn was being called by the medium sized shop keeper where I had left it. Ganesh or Shiva or whoever is certainly looking out for us!
                                         Rachelites flock to their idol

Anyway.  The Golden Temple in Amritsar is why we are here and both of us are thrilled we made the journey. On entering the grounds we leave our shoes in a huge storage area. From there on and for the next 3 hours or so we wander around barefoot. The Temple sits in the middle of a man-made “Nectar” lake about 300 metres square that is surrounded by beautiful period buildings. The faithful can strip off and bathe in these holy waters and many do so giving glimpses of buttocks and cocks to anyone who might be looking. The temple is indeed golden and quite stunning with the sun reflecting the gold onto the surrounding waters. It is reached by a walkway which is also adorned with gold and crowded with those who wish to see the gurus, holy books and the inside of this beautiful structure. We join the throng and feel priviledged to see this holy place and those paying homage inside it. Whilst inside there is a call to prayer and everything stops for 5 minutes of devotion. There is a tangible feeling in the air that is part excitement and part reverence and we both sense it  as we walk with the people. As quite often happens we are the only whites and therefore a must have acquisition for any Indian photo library. In one instance (see below) about 40 people wanted to be in a picture with Rachel – most bizarre!

After the tour of the Temple we avail ourselves of the ‘meal of inclusion’ that is offered and accepted by virtually every visitor to the temple. To do this the Temple management have organised something both efficient and slightly wonderful as it is largely performed by volunteers. To give an idea of the scale of the operation the temple kitchens are open from 6.00am to 9.00pm and have 4 sittings an hour. At our sitting there were about 600 people who were herded in and sat on mats in rows with metal compartmented trays into which was put dahl, rice pudding, 2 chapattis and a bowl of water. The food was distributed by men carrying buckets and large kettles and had been cooked in huge cauldrons over wood fires. As our 15 minute slot came to an end water wash splashed on the floor, huge squeegees pushed up and down the roads, people shoo’ed out and the next setting began. A we walk along we hand utensils and trays to helpers who chuck them into large baskets in which they are whisked away to be washed by a noisy clanking army of waher uppers. It was an amazing thing to do.

 

Finally today we went to the site of the1919 massacre of innocent Indians by English Troops in Jallainwala Bagh (As seen in the film Ganghi – sorry to trivialise) It was very moving and we felt a little awkward being British. However (and I apologise for this) we were amused to find topiary wire shapes of British soldiers shooting rifles and Indian arms coming out of the ground. Someone thought this was a good idea (we didn’t)

That’s it for Amritsar tomorrow a new adventure starts in the mountains in McLeod Ganj.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Diwali in Jaisalmer


 
Bonkers! Absolutely bloody bonkers!
For the past few weeks as we have travelled through India and have seen evidence of the oncoming festival of Diwali - The festival of light. This is a Hindu festival that celebrates the victory of Good over Evil (Light over Darkness) and is sort of like Christmas, New Year and a Syrian Street Battle all wrapped up in one. For weeks new clothes, sweets, foodstuff and gifts have been purchased in preparation for this, the biggest event in the Hindu calendar. Fireworks in huge amounts have been stockpiled and garlands, lights and glittering decorations have been strung over every street and doorway and window. Everywhere you go there has been a constant boom, bang or crackle of fire works day and night to remind you of the oncoming celebration until last night it reached its mad crescendo. Sparkling lights were turned on and hundreds of small clay pots containing oil fueled burning wicks bedecked every window or ledge throughout the city, the country. The tangible sense of excitement filled the air and after a few hours of lull it erupted at about 6.30pm as the sun went down and then the madness begun with firecrackers, bangers, rockets and huge booming explosions shaking the city and lighting the skies. Everywhere you looked their were glittering trails of rockets whizzing upwards to explode into huge splashes of colour and a coninuous boom as of their detonations.

We met a lovely couple earlier in the day in a rooftop restaurant and had drank a few cups of chai with them whilst the sun was at its hottest and had agreed to eat with them at their rundown hotel where the owner (manager) had promised their would be music and dancing and a great view from the rooftop some 5 floors up.

At 8.00pm (after free pakoras and sweets kindly offered by our lovely host Meetu) we set off on the short walk through the narrow streets and lanes past young children holding sparklers, catherine wheels on sticks and roman candles and squealing as firecrackers were thrown with abandon by them and parents alike. Both of us jumping at unexpected booms and marvelling at the health and safety nightmare all around us.

Keith, an Aussie from Perth and Maria his German partner were waiting in the restaurant and a huge smile crosses their faces as they see us. The greeting by Ali and Kamal was warm and effusive and plainly the excitement of the evening was already bubbling away within them. I looked around for the crowds and evidence of the promised dancing and music. But as everything here most promises are asperational and not to be considered literally. There were about 10 people, there was a great view of the fort and there was indeed music (this compactly provided by an old Nokia phone on full blast placed on a shelf beside the tables). Not to be disheartened we embraced the possibilities rather than the actuality and cracked open the large bottle of Rum i had bought on the way over for the princely sum of 290 Rupees. Food was good, the company lively and with music provided by Keiths good singing and strumming on his accoustic guitar. Of particular note was his folk rendition of Pretty Vacant by the Sex Pistols which really worked! Below us the streets filled with people planting bangers and roman candles in the steet which either splutted, spurted or exploded beneath swerving motorcyclists or unsuspecting tuk tuk drivers. Faces of young and old were lit up with flares and the whole scene was swathed in drifting different colour smoke.

The evening progressed with laughter, the waiters doing wieird chicken dances with Maria, me doing fake palm reading and holding a waiter aloft, Keith strumming and us all trying to do bollywood style dancing or miming to the action shown on the visual display screens (sorry i mean the Nokia). It was low budget but it was so India and great fun.

The evening finished with us having to run the gauntlet of the streets where we started and stopped, ran and crept, ducked and screamed our way through explosions and smoke until we finally rached the safety of our bed and fell into a tipsy sleep whilst explosions continued. Woke at 6.30am and fireworks are still going off and every 15 seconds i can hear drumming, frizzling sounds or bangs.

What a brilliant thing to be part of and something we will both remember always (remember being operative work as the bloody compact camera died)

Monday, 12 November 2012

One hump or two?


 

 

Jaisalmer is situated 80 km from the Pakistan border amidst scrub land and desert. The place is called the Enchanted City and is predominently made up of yellow sandstone buildings set out in narrow roads and alleys. There is something enchanting about the place as it does not seem to have that manic feel that other cities we have visited. We are tucked away in a residential steet just a few yards from the fort and enjoy a beep free nightlife. Although with Diwali getting ever closer the number of bangers and fireworks going off increases everyday and it is common to see tiny children playing with these expolsives and scattering just in time ashuge bangs ring out.

We are collected by the house boy to our hotel from the railway station who has to battle with imaginative and very persistent tuk tuk drivers all vying for out business. With a few hours we have been offered Dope Lassi (like a thick shake) which we declined in favour of some water; We have watched a heat grazed and plainly randy bull trying to mount a motorcycle. Whilst the Honda was attractive it wasn’t all that so am confused as to what the bull saw in it. Unfortunately we failed to get that golden moment picture before the frustrated fellow was shooed away from the object of his desire by its angry owner eager to retain the Honda Hero’s virginity; And, I have broken a tooth. I was assured that it was no problem so was show to a nearby dentist’s surgery. The ‘dentist’ was sitting outside on his hands and welcomed me with a smile, a hawking of phlegm and a gob on the rubbish pile beside him. Throught he poor translation abilities of the houseboy the dentist assertained what was needed so without wasting time washing his hands he poked my tooth with a felt tip pen, put those grubby fingers on my tooth and rubbed it it see how sharp the edges were. Mimed that he could put a cap on the tooth using a dusty plaster cast model as an example. Then after vigorous shaking of my head resolved to smooth off the edges a little instead. I sat in the dusty chair whilst he took the drill (the only one) and ground down a sharp edge until I decided enough was enough, sat up and spat into the dirty mouthwash bowl, paid my 100 rupees and fled to buy hole plugging chewing gum until more suitable dental care could be obtained.

Day two and we are collected by jeep at 8.00am to go on a 2 day and 1 night camel safari. We drive about 20 miles outside of Jaisalmer where we meet our camel driver, boy and team of 6 camels for the 6 of us in the party –us,  a guatamalan woman called Maria 1. Who’s accent, expressions and mode of speech kept us giggling the whole time “Aye aye aye. I eff torns in maiy pantsahs” (Oh dear that’s painful I have some thorns in my underwear”, her work colleague a german guy – Christian, with a dead pan face, dry sense of humour and uncanny ability to open beer bottles, Maria 2. An Argentinian student who had travelled for 1.5 years, was friendly, quiet and looked like a pretty femail Antonio Banderas and finally, Shanka, said it rhymed with something or other, a cool indian graphic designer and aspiring rockstar who played around the campfire.

We ride the camels for about 3.5 hours out into the scrubland that was densely populated for 75% of the way with huge wind turbines (somewhat took away the sense of being in a desolate desert). During this time we stop for lunch cooked around campfire whilst the camels wandered off to graze and we all fell asleap. Eventually we set off and after a further hour arrive at the dunes where we are to spend the night. The dunes are inhabited by snakes (didn’t see any) dung beetles (crawled everywhere) and Crickets (big buggers that land in your hair and make you whuhuhuhuharrrggghhh! every now and then

We drink a few beers and share a litre bottle of rum with cokes, eat a meal of dahl and vegetables and watch the most amazing sunset before settling down around the campfire to chat and listen to Shanka (what did that rhyme with?) strumming and the camel driver singing trad Indian songs mixed with Aquas Barbie Girl – interesting.

We sleep the night on stuffed mattresses under white sheets and thick blankets using the sand for pillows. I would like to say it was wonderful but won’t as I would be lying. Sand is really hard and uncomfortable and in the desert noise travels so any movement wakes others up. For me it was a long night and I was glad Dawn eventually came. Rachel too found it hard but can sleep anywhere. Having said that we fell asleep in one anothers arms staring up at the biggest clearest sky. The deep blue scattered with twinkling stars and punctuated with shooting stars and satellites. It was really magical, then it was uncomfortable then really cold. However I would willing do the whole thing again (with a pillow though) as it was a great experience. Rachel especially liked being woken just before dawn to watch the the sunrise and then the sunrise develop into yet another golden day which found us eating boiled eggs and toast and drinking Chai sitting beside our camels on the sands in Rajastan before tootling off back home to our hotel.
 
And they said she had no style
 

Friday, 9 November 2012

Jodhpurs derive from Jodpurian leg wear


Jodhpur - The Blue City. So called because the area was originally populated by the the highest castes - the Brahmin who traditionally painted their house blue. The preferred colour Indigo is also said to repel insects although sitting here this evening i have seen flies, mossies, ants so who knows.

Just one note on sitting here. Because of Diwali i assume there is, about every 3 minutes, a really loud banger going off at different points around the hostel that makes everyone jump. The most jumpy which is slightly sick but still funny are two girls from Israel who live near the Lebanese border! Bang! Oy Vey!

Second note. I have just ordered a meal special which includes Special Naan (nice), Saffron rice (fragrant) and Vag Kofta with Rich Grave (Urrrm)

Our guesthouse is tucked away in tiny alleys that the Tuk Tuks cannot get to because of both their narrowness and gradience so had to haul bags uphill. Looked somewhat dodgy to start with but thrilled with yet another find by chief hostel finder Rachel who scored again at 550 Rupees for the night in a very nice bright blue room that has a shower with a toilet and sink in it. Its like being on the bus again.

Jodhpur is a bit of a wild card and we have really enjoyed our 24 hours here. Today we hiked up to the fort which is the biggest in rajastan and very interesting with amazing rooms, views, cannons and history. Met the Court Artist who is renovating all of the wall paintings around the fort and he showed us in some closed to the public rooms that he was very proud of.

OK i am handing this over to Rachel to finish cos she keeps asking me if i am going to mention this, or that, or something else.

i just wanted to make sure that Chris mentioned that Jodhpur was an unexpected pleasant surprise. we had intended for it to be a stopover to make the journey to jaisalmer a little easier but i have really enjoyed the gentleness of the place. and also the fact that i thought i was going to die when i saw the steep incline we had to go up with our backpacks on. i really did get to the hostel and then saw the steps up to the reception and could not breath. they took pity on us and gave us a room right next to reception so i didnt have to go up anymore steps. thank the lord!



One last thing... Chris was cynical, I wasn't and I had my palm read by, no less, the Maharajas Palmist. He looked at my right palm for several seconds and then at my face for the next five minutes whilst he told my past and future... Apparently I get depressed and am bossy, i have low blood pressure and suffer from allegies, I should have had two children, will live to 84, am career minded and analytical and will work hard for the next two years and make my fortune by 55...What a load of bollocks. I am with cynic Chris on this one.
 

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Oh James thats quite impressive!



 
Udaipur, is big city although any architectural and cultural significance is found within an area of less than 1sq mile on a bottleneck of Lake Pichola. It is here within a sumptuous hotel rising out of the lake that the James Bond film Octopussy was filmed in 1982 and it is here that several hotels still show the movie EVERY night. Unfortunately, since the location is so singular, it is unlikely that future movie makers will ever make another movie here so those hoteliers and staff are damned, should they persist in showing the film, to a life time of Roger Moore’s smug looks, corny lines and severe over acting by all involved. Having said that, it was a joy to eat our first evening meal whilst it was showing in our hotel in the company of the owner who knew the film word for word.

The streets of old Udaipur are narrow and lined with leather bag shops, heavily patterned, pseudo indian hippy clothing shops, ayurvedic massage parlours and knick knack shops. There is no pavement and consequently it is only possible to walk in single file or risk being ran over by tuk tuks or motorbikes or pushed aside by a meandering cow (who, we were amazed to see, will stop and move to the side when they hear a larger vehicle coming up from behind. I am guessing they know the difference in engine pitch and are conversant with the Indian concept of biggest vehicle gets right of way). Couple this with very persistent shopkeepers taking advantage of the fact that one has to constantly stop outside their shops makes it a chore rather than an experience to move around the town. There are, however, ghats  that lead down to the lake side with terraces  upon which it is pleasant to stand and watch the washer women battering hell out of the washing using large flat paddles similar to cricket bats. These women are at it from 5.00am in the morning till 3.00pm in the afternoon and cackle and sing and chat whilst their arm muscles bulge with exertion. This is picturesque to watch during the day but at 5.00am in the morning I could cheerfully murder them because it sounds like a constant rally of tennis shots which echo’s from one side of the lake to the other. Also on my ever evolving death list are those Indians  who whoop ecstatically when dancing, those who randomly let off large booming fireworks during the night, packs of dogs that  howl and bark till 5.00am and the muslim mahuenin, who can’t sing but still call their faithful to prayer at about 5.10am.

 

To Udaipuir’s credit there is a nice temple with fine sculptures and the city palace which is huge and interesting to wander around with its piazzas , covered walkways, and miles of interconnecting rooms. 

As everywhere we go we find people to talk to and invariably form quick confidences. Here we found another English couple (Jack and Caroline) who are similar ages to us and having a bit of spiritual journey come life experience by travelling around India for three months. Lovely people with whom we managed to get drunk and go out and have a pleasant meal with. Unlike the couple who got us drunk and fed us in Goa, who were boorish, racist and self centred and stalked us for two days. Jack and Caroline, if you read this, good luck with your journey and life – you were good fun and company.

Last day in Udairpur and we left the city and walked about 14 km around lake Sagar. A large roughly circular lake withan island garden in the middle with lovely fountain. The lake itself is surrounded by hills and provides nice views. However the highlight was coming across the Siva Gandhi Gardens which covered about 6 acres of landscaped hillside and effectively was a plastic zoo. Dotted around the place were fenced enclosures containing different life sized animals such as bison, lions, penguins etc. It was surreal to say the least since it was: A) a plastic zoo. B) in the middle of nowhere  and C) empty! I love India. Land of surprises!!

I am typing this on the bus to Jodphur. We have a double birth sleeper compartment which is 4ft by 6ft. The sleeper compartments are arranged above the seats of cheaper paying passengers (ours compartment was £8.50 to get us 350km) the compartment has sliding doors to cut us off from the rest of the bus with curtains to screen us. On the roadside of the compartment we have windows which open to let the breeze blow in. the height of the compartment is about 3ft so one can sit up. The details here are important because it is in this space, whilst the bus juddered along dusty, dirt roads of the scrublands that Rachel had to use here SheWee to relieve herself. For those in the know this device is a thin elliptical funnel that slides under the fanny. From this there protrudes the tube which can be extended (bravado reasons????) with a 6 inch plastic tube.  So I leave you with the image of Rachel squatting in the capsule, supported by my leg and outstretched arm, pissing in an empty water bottle whilst we bounce along. Her telling me to not look whilst I can feel the bottle heating up and getting heavier as she streams for a good two minutes filling the bottle to about 750ml of amber gold. Funny thing is the bus pulled into a pit stop 7 minutes later!!!

 

 

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

And so it continues.....

After the initial excitement of India and all its craziness you would have thought it would have worn thin by now. But it hasn't. We could go on about how our senses are still being assaulted at every turn with colours, smells, sights and noises that are continuing to surprise us but it still will not convey to you how incredible India is. Their marketing slogan of Incredible India is spot on.will just mention a fairly simple sight on Sunday morning while we were sat on the roof terrace of our hostel. There were brightly coloured kites all over the sky. About a foot square but very plain. No fancy tails or flaps, just a square of paper with a string dipped in some sort of fibreglass resin to make it sharp. You could hear the crack and snap as these boys of between about 6 and 12 years old all stood on the roof terraces around and made their kites duck and dive and swoop around trying to cut each others strings. It is similar to our conker games in that they score points for taking out the opposition but a bit more exciting to watch. other thing, we went to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall. What an experience. Indian cinema is brilliant. First the cost, 180 rupees (£2) to get in. Then it says the film start time is 2.40 and, guess what, the film started at 2.40. None of this 40mins of trailers for stuff you don't want or telling you turn off your phone. Oh no, we have phones ringing the whole way through, people chatting, explaining to their friends cos its in English not Hindi and unless the image was in the centre third it was out of focus. Not digital but the old projected movie with crackles and hairs and out of fit quality. We even had an intermission where virtually the whole cinema left to get drinks or pee. Then about 5 minutes before the end of the film they open all the fire exit doors and the lights coming in so they can get you out quickly for the next screening, which I think was in Hindi. Completely bonkers!

Next leg of adventure is an 8 hour train journey to Udaipur. I hope it will still excite us?  

Friday, 2 November 2012

I love this place TOO!



Jaipur

On way to airport at Goa we saw Chris Tarrant on a bridge filming something. Unfortunately didn't get in on this shoot. At the airport bumped into Rachels boss's wife who had been doing a charity bikeride (Whats the chances). The Roads here are even crazier than anything we have yet sampled. Absolute madness with honking of horns, dirt and dust and exhaust fumes filling the air, bikes, people, cars, buses, camels, elephants, dogs, pigs and cows all thrown together and moving in different directions, at different speeds with different degrees of concern for themselves or others. I cannot convey the frenetic lunacy of the roads with people having scant regard for traffic signals, distinctions between roads and paths, directions of traffic or care for life and limb. Having said that it is fabulous and exciting and terrifying and wonderful to behold. The Pink City portion of Jaipur is a warren of little streets completely overun with bikes and people. Shops spill out onto the street, cows wander into shops, everyone is just getting by in the best way they can and walking the roads is like being in the worlds largest carboot sale. Hose shops next to gun shops next to tv shops next to sweetshops next to hammer shops next to sari makers next to jewellers next to car sprayers etc. The city is just overwhelming to see in action and then there are the places that just take your breath away because of there beauty, majesty, grandness. We are in a lovely little hostel but there is only us and the family which consists of a reitred leiutenent colonel and his botanist professorial wife and house boy to serve us. The room is lovely, the company stimulating and interesting and the value very good. Arvind is doing yoga on the roof terrace with rachel and i at 6.30am tomorrow. Today we saw the Water Palace which was captivating and serene. A beautiful structure seemingly floating on the waters of the lake set amongst the hills. Later we went to the Amber Fort. A huge, impressive and fascinating building with terraces, squares, and crenalated walls, frescos, steps and tunnels. We ambled around for a few hours taking in breathtaking views and stunning architecture. This is a must see place for those of you who are planning to visit India. Tomorrow we will be trekking all day again and hope to report on even more wonders.