Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Namaste India


Namaste.

Today, we board a plane. One that flies through the air across the world and brings us back to our loved ones. It's exciting to be returning home and, at the same time, saddening to be leaving "Incredible !ndia".

We have 6 hours to kill before hopping on a taxi to the airport, which should be a joyous 4 hour event (so we have been informed).

I'm lost for words at the moment, but you should rest easily knowing that we had McDonald's for lunch a couple of days ago. Chicken Maharaja Mac anyone? McAloo Tikka burger?

See you soon.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Tick Tock


The same streets of Delhi that made our heads spin 4 months ago are now like old pals to us. It's incredible, really, how much tougher, sharper, wiser we are to all of India's surprises. We've been going over lately the things we'll miss about India - and the things we definitely won't. Both are long lists, but this is an unquestionably amazing country.

Just a couple more days of shopping, eating, exploring, being here till we hop on a plane, and then one more till we can kiss Canadian soil (or ice). We'll have so much to tell you when we get home.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Choo choo


Ho ho ho! Today we hop on the Howrah-New Delhi Express (Train 2323) at 6:45pm and arrive in Delhi tomorrow at 5:15pm (if all goes as planned, which is unlikely). As you can imagine, we're bursting at the seams with excitement about spending 22 hours on a train. Hopefully it isn't too bad.

Kolkata has been an interesting place. We've eaten some tasty food and visited the Victoria Memorial, but it seems that the thing that stands out most in my memory is the man laying on the street with his diseased arm, gaping open at the elbow, in our faces. It was frightening and stomach-churning, but the worst part was that nobody was doing anything about it. That and we had no idea what to do about it. It was terrible.

Moving on, we're planning on visiting the botanical gardens today, as well as Dalhousie square and some sort of black hole memorial. Hopefully today is a bit brighter than yesterday was.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kolkata Konundrum


After witnessing a man getting knocked out by a cold, hard fisted Indian, we hopped on a rickshaw from Bodhgaya to Gaya Junction where we would catch our train at 11:15pm. That is, if it wasn't running on Indian Railways. We arrived around 10pm on an exciting rickshaw drag race we had against other rowdy Canadians. Unfortunately, all that excitement was lost rapidly as we realized we would have to wait around until 3:15am before our train would show up. Well, at least it -did- show up. Apparently there was a collision between two trains, but we saw nothing of it in the morning newspaper. If it did actually happen, I sure hope everyone is all right.

Anyway, we arrived in Kolkata at 11 where we proceeded to ferry and taxi over to Sudder St, where most budget hotels are. We were accompanied by a full-fledged Italian man named Andreas who recommended a great pizzeria that we will be joining him for dinner at tonight. Boy am I excited.

Anyway, back to Sudder St. As we began looking for a hotel, we were confronted by an Indian man seeking commission by leading us to hotels. Now this is nothing out of the ordinary, except this man was furious. Almost dangerous. We said he wanted to go alone, and he started to yell and make a big scene. He even went so far as to tell Andreas that he should leave India immediately before muttering something about Israelis and pointing his hand in the shape of a gun at Andreas' head. It was startling to say the least.

As we began to walk-- and he followed us because he would get commission so long as he entered with us-- a man informed us that the commission-hungry Indian had lost more than a few marbles due to extensive use of cocaine and 'smack'. Well that did little to comfort us, since he was hot on our trail and didn't seem to be giving up. Luckily, we spotted a grocery store (it's always exciting to see one) and we entered, hoping he would be gone by the time we left. Sure enough, he was.

Whew!

So we're here now and we've enjoyed a delicious breakfast. It's strange to think that next Wednesday we will be walking upon Canadian soil-- well I suppose snow would be a better word, wouldn't it?

We hope all is well in the motherland and we'll see you all soon. Maybe too soon ;>

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Buddha Baby


We arrived safely in Bodhgaya at 5am this morning. Our train from Varanasi was 4 hours late, so we didn't have to pay for a guest house last night! This dusty village is crawling with monks and around every corner there is a unique and immaculate Buddhist temple and some Tibetan refugees selling colourful goods on the road.

We plan to spend 2 nights here before heading to Kolkata. We are very excited to be finishing our trip soon and returning home to you!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

To Bodhgaya!


First of all, I'd like to make sure that you didn't get the impression that Varanasi is a boring place. It's far from that. In fact, just wandering the streets is quite an entertaining and draining adventure. Every 3 steps there's somebody shouting at you to buy their wares, whether it be silk shawls -- "cheap and best" -- or opium, hash, lsd, and just about any other drug you can think of.

It's tiresome at times, but it's not too bad. The old town, where we have stayed, has been quite a labyrinthe to navigate through, but we've managed somehow. It's always fun to step out of the hotel on to those winding 5-foot wide streets.

Besides all the hassle from the shopkeepers, there's always the chance you'll see a dead body being carried towards the burning ghats (which are 50m from our hotel). Either that, or you see one laying on the ground waiting to be discovered by something besides flies. We stood and watched flames erupt from eye sockets for a while one evening, which was interesting to say the least. Burnings take place 24/7 around here. It's fascinating.

What else can I say? We've enjoyed some really great non-Indian dishes here. I just need a break sometimes, okay? No problem.

Anyway, we're beginning our journey to Bodhgaya tonight via train. We have a ticket to Gaya with an ETA of 1:20am, so we'll hopefully be able to find a hotel to sleep in before heading to Bodhgaya tomorrow morning (it's about 15km away). We ran into one of the people we did our 10-day Buddhist meditation retreat with, and she'll be joining us for the journey. She's an Israeli girl named Chen. She's cool and we all have a great time together, so it should be fun.

Bodhgaya sounds like a very interesting place. It has a population of around 30,000 people (much less than the 2 or 3 million in Varanasi) and was the place where the Buddha became enlightened. Due to its auspiciousness, dozens of countries from around the world that have Buddhist followers have built monasteries in the city, which should provide an interesting variety of architecture. We're excited!

Special Notice
Happy 2nd Birthday, Beckett!!!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Day 100


Hello everyone!

Believe it or not, we have been rejuvenated in the crazy city of Varanasi. Mostly thanks to over-eating and over-sleeping, I suppose, but nonetheless we're back on our feet and ready to tackle the final 2 weeks of our journey.

There's not really much to do in Varanasi besides wander the narrow streets like rats. We're planning on taking a boat ride down the ganges at sunset and another at sunrise, as well as visiting the nearby town of Sarnath where the Buddha gave his first teaching on the Way.

We've had some pretty good food here including a salami sandwich made with real Italian salami. Ooh baby. We tend to frequent bakeries and I always have room for more Parle-G cookies (similar to my old love of Raja-G, I just can't get enough of these cheap glucose cookies).

We really haven't done much since getting here besides wander around and eat. It's no big deal. We're planning on heading out to Bodhgaya on December 6 and to arrive in Kolkata on the 9th or 10th.

Time's a tickin'!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tiresome Travels Take Their Toll


Hello everyone,

I'm feeling exhausted from all our travels, so this will be short. Things have been pretty ... overcrowded lately. It has been insane, but we've made it through it and we've finally got a clean -- albeit spartan -- room to sleep in.

We have enjoyed a chilling morning safari through Bandhavgarh National Park, which is teeming with serenity. We saw a tiger, but rode no elephants.

We've travelled like Indians. We've searched for hotels in the wee hours of the morning.

It's time for a rest. I've updated the Google Maps itinerary with our actual route and current location. We are planning on taking the 22 hour long train ride back from Kolkata to Delhi on the evening of December 12, but our schedule up until then is flexible.

Good night

Friday, November 28, 2008

Movin on and lettin you know


We're getting on a bus to Jabalpur within the hour. Trying to see if it's possible for us to ride elephants and track tigers at the Bandhavgarh Reserve.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

We are OK


Hey guys,

After spending a sleepless night on a bus, we arrived in Nagpur to be presented with a newspaper describing the brutal terrorist damage done in Mumbai. Don't worry, we're outta there. And it's fortunate too because many of the areas hit were places our dusty sandals had treaded. I hope everyone who was injured recovers quickly.

We've been up to lots since our last post, mostly cave exploration. Our last day in Mumbai we took a boat out to Elephanta Island and explored the caves and temples there. Then after a long train ride to Aurangabad and a 24 hour rest period, we checked out the Ajanta and the Ellora caves over the next two days. (world heritage sights) They are maginficent. While at Ellora there are Hindu, Jain and Buddhist temples, they are all Buddhist at Ajanta. The temples and shrines there date back to about 2nd century BC are carved right out of the rock that makes up the mountain. We had a special treat that day: we met a group of Buddhist monks and nuns who were accompanying Lama Zopa Rinpoche in visiting/praying/blessing the temples. We'd heard so much about him during our stay at Tushita in Dharmashala; we'd even seen a video about his pilgrimage to Tibet. If the Dalai Lama has a posse, I think it's safe to say that Rinpoche is in it. (*) He was very friendly and they welcomed us to tag along with them. They even shared their snacks with us!

Although we missed the attacks in Mumbai, we did get attacked by a fleet of bed bugs in Aurangabad. They are nasty little critters and we hope we haven't brough any with us.

What's next? Getting some fresh fruit, rest and trying to find a way to Varanassi.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Livin' Like Bollers


Hello, hello, good morning, good evening, good afternoon, how are you?

We've escaped the bustling city of Ahmedabad to take refuge in the Western sanctuary of Mumbai. This place is expensive. Apparently the average wage here is three times the typical amount earned in the rest of India, and the typical prices around here confirm it.

However, when we're not so concerned with our budget, we're likely to be found enjoying delicious pastries and fresh Italian Lavazza coffee in a swanky café around town. We spent the start of the day doing just that.

After arriving from a sleeper train at 8 am or so, we checked into an overpriced "budget" hotel then wandered the streets. They have quite the western feel to them. It's been a while since we've been surrounded by tall buildings, traffic (with no autorickshaws in sight), high-end fashion stores and stylish restaurants. It's kind of nice.

So we've gone to a couple of art galleries and watched the movie Quantum of Solace (with tasty popcorn!). Perhaps tomorrow we'll take a cruise to Elephanta Island and do whatever there is to do around there. We're not quite prepared to be in this big city, since we haven't thoroughly read the sights and activities that are available to us, but we'll get there. We're just coasting along looking for the next place to eat when our stomach demands it, which is great fun.

Speaking of which, that time has come again. Lunch! A late lunch, at 4pm, but a lunch nonetheless. We're being harassed much less here than in Ahmedabad and Diu, which is a real treat. In a couple of days we'll be heading out of here though, towards Aurangabad on a train, which should prove to be completely different than this blooming metropolis. Calmer, to say the least.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Off the Island


After spending the whole day on two buses and a train, we've arrived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's capitol. We've got a cheap but adequately neat room at Hotel Gulmarg (where apparently call-girls are available). We just had a lovely meal at The Green House, a garden terrace restaurant. Everything seemed to have at least a little mint, coconut or coriander in it. We finished things off with fresh hand-churned ice cream. Yumm.

***

When we first arrived in Diu, something very strange seemed to be going on. We walked down the main drag ... in silence. All the shops were closed; the place was deserted. Diu used to be occupied by the Portugese, and although they aren't around anymore, the Indians adopted their habit of taking an afternoon siesta. So from 1 - 4 everyday everyone goes home for lunch and a nap.

Something else you should know about Diu is that it is the only place in the province where drinking (alcohol) is legal. This means that many Gujarati tourists come to enjoy the beaches and get drunk. We encountered many men with poor English, insistent on getting a photo of us. Although this is not unique to Diu, something about our bright white flesh glimmering in the Arabian Sea caused them to sit on the shore, watch and wait for us for great lengths of time. Speaking of glimmering in the sea, the sea food in Diu was super fresh and delicious. Tuna, shark fish, pomfret, prawns, king fish, calamari ... scrumptious. (We hear that a lot of Europe's seafood is imported from Veraval, a fishing town a couple hours from Diu.)

In contrast to the men of Diu, which are enough to give my dad the creeps, the women of Diu were some of the most wonderful yet. (I have had such amazing experiences with Indian women. Quite often they just involve a smile.) In Diu I feel I made friends with two women. One was this lady who sold fruit in the market. There was something special about her; she had a kind smile that knew everything and saw the humour in life. I speak no Gujarati, and the only English words she knows are "thank youuuuu", but we were always happy to see each other and somehow we managed to do business together. She always slipped something extra in my bag. My other friend worked at a restaurant called La Dolce Vita that Pete and I liked to eat at. She and her husband had a little white puppy called Jacky that loved to play. The woman was slim, young and pretty, and had little English, but her warmth and giggles told me that she liked me. On our last day in Diu, the day I finally got a sari, we went to dine there and to say goodbye. The young woman was very pleased to see me in traditional dress and she thoroughly fixed up my amateur attempt at the complicated folds and tucks that make a sari beautiful.

Pete dubbed Diu "a quirky paradise". I think that fits perfectly.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Goodbye Diu


Good afternoon!

I am feeling better!

Hooray!

Yes, the fantastic news is true. I feel better. Now I just need to continue eating like a regular human being again to help regain all that weight I lost over the past month! No problem with all the cookies and other snacks available at cheap prices :D. Don't worry, we also munch on fresh fruit and nuts as well. Steph particularly loves guavas.

Yesterday we had the wonderful experience of renting a Scooty! We buzzed around town on it tearing up the roads at 30km/h. It was really quite an enjoyable experience :-) We've got some photos of us riding and posing, but I don't have the camera with me to upload them.

Anyway, we're gearing up to get the heck out of this quirky paradise. We're heading to the big city Ahmedabad tomorrow, if we can get tickets, which shouldn't be a problem.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Welcome to Diu


Hello.

I am writing you from the comfort of a lime green internet cafe in Diu. Yep-- that's right, we're still here. And TODAY I will finally update the itinerary.

I know what you're all wondering... how is Stephanie feeling?

Well, I'd love to let you know, but right now she is enjoying a peaceful bike ride along the shores of the Arabian sea, so we'll get back to you on that. Maybe.

After taking the medication, I managed to experience an hour or so of comfort, which was so incredibly enjoyable. The diarrhea stopped, but the internal pain didn't. I took four doses and waited two days after taking them before throwing in the towel-- again -- and going to buy some more meds from an Indian chemist (aka pharmacist).

Well, that was yesterday and I've been experiencing bouts of youthful exuberance between periods of mild discomfort. Boy oh boy, when that first bout came yesterday, it was as if I had been wearing sunglasses for 10 years and somebody took them off and let me see the vibrant world as it is. No longer was I chained by lethargy and pain. I had freedom!

Naturally, I ran outside and bought chocolate bars and cookies for Stephanie and I to celebrate over another grand evening of watching old movies (in English) on TV. The enjoyment was only temporary and I was soon arrested by low energy and uncomfortable feelings, but I did manage to eat a few slices of potato, carrots and cucumber for dinner.

Anyway, today has been better than yesterday. We managed a fairly enjoyable day at the beach after my breakfast of champions -- two plain slices of toast and one with honey. Life is just fabulous. ;>

I guess it would be better if it weren't for the kill-me-now smells that we are surrounded with in the city. Things like garbage, pollution (cars, burning plastic), rotting food (including fish). There's also this one mysterious smell that makes me want to die. It makes me feel like my lungs are filling up with plastic and it has an absolutely terrible aroma.

WELCOME TO DIU!

At least the beach is nice, as well as the air in this internet cafe on the main floor of our hotel.

Our next stops are supposed to be Ahmedabad, Mumbai, then the Ajanta caves and Ellora. I'm not too excited about seeing the first two places, as they're big cities, but we may be able to catch a viewing of Quantum of Solace in Mumbai, the home of Bollywood. The Ajanta caves and Ellora are both designated as World Heritage sites, so hopefully they're all right.

So long as the air has some oxygen left in it, we'll be okay. A big milestone is coming up soon-- we're 75% through our trip as of November 19. Cool, eh?

Saturday, November 8, 2008

DIARRHEA (part 1)


Greetings everyone!

It has become apparent that I am suffering from a lovely case of Traveller's Diarrhea (TD). At first, Stephanie and I both thought it only qualified as full frontal TD if there was blood in your stool, but this is not the case. Only in really bad cases is blood found in the diarrhea.

Anyway, I've been suffering from it on and off for the past month and it's gotten really bad in the past few days, so today-- after researching the symptoms again-- I've decided to stop being such a "tough guy" and start taking the meds to help fix myself. After writing this post, I will be taking my first dosage of Ciprofloxacin.

It's rather unfortunate, since we're currently staying on the ex-Portuguese island Diu, where we spent the day yesterday on the shores of the salty Arabian sea. Soaking up the sun can really take a lot out of you, especially when you're unhealthy! It'll be great when I'm feeling better and we can both truly enjoy our surroundings.

The food here hasn't been that great, although we have found one real gem of a restaurant called O'Coquiero Music Garden. They've served the best pasta and the best salads we've had in India so far, and the drinks aren't bad either. While we wouldn't recommend their breaded calamari, we're still open to trying the other fresh fish dishes.

I hope you guys are enjoying good health back home. Maybe you could send some positive energy to Steph to help her deal with the side-effects of my illness.

Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Thursday, November 6, 2008

FOOD (part 2)


We've arrived in Diu after a long long trip. I think we were in motion for 17 hours straight on various buses and rickshaws. The sleeper bus turned out to be quite nauseating and neither of us got much sleep. Now we've got a small room close to the water right near the fruit and vegetable market. This morning we went and bought some guavas, bananas, nuts, roses, cookies and this crazy fruit that resembles a puffy artichoke and can be pulled apart easily. It tastes kind of like lychee.

We've eaten some pretty delicious stuff here in India. We've visited some ritzy restaurants where meals are expensive - but still a fraction of what it would cost in Canada. But I think some of the best meals we've had have been quite simple: sharing a couple of dishes like mattar paneer (peas and cheese) and dum aloo (stuffed potatoes) and a plate of naan bread. Yum! Fresh lime sodas are always a safe bet for drink, but fresh juice and lassis are fun too when the place seems clean. Yesterday, after checking in, I drank the water from a young green coconut Pete got off the street. Subtle flavour, quite nice. Palm trees are all over the place here and actually the vegetation growing in this province(Gujarat) seems much more lush; more cactai, more flowering trees.

Here are some food photos from the last month or so:


vegetable dosa at the Indian Coffee House, Shimla


baked trout in Minali - so so good


fancy dessert at the Crystal Restaurant, Amritsar


after dessert we went to a well known hole in the wall for amritsari fish: white fish with garlic, lemon, ginger, chilli ... deep fried - amazing


Ronald chillin' in New Delhi (we haven't eaten here - yet)


super duper sweets shop at LMB, Jaipur


while I had a lager beer, Pete had a large bear


really nice and spicy fish meal in Udaipur

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

I go bananas


After a rather lazy week in Udaipur, we're heading towards (the beaches of) Diu tonight. We'll take a sleeper bus to Rajkot, arrive tomorrow morning, grab breakfast, then take another ~7 hr bus to Diu.

It's tough to get a good breakfast in this place. We've waited away many mornings this week for cold toast and uncooked eggs. We did, however, find a great juice stand called Pap's that serves a fantastically fresh pomegranate/pineapple/ginger juice for Rs 40 (i.e. one dollar). I go bananas for it, plus it's good for the cold I caught. And Udaipur is speckled with rooftop restaurants with great views of the city and lake - which make long waits and mediocre food much more enjoyable.

The cows and bulls that fill the streets are feisty, and a few have hustled us a little. I did, however, meet a very nice young bull this morning and spent 5 minutes rubbing his neck, ears and nose.

There isn't a lot to do around here, so we've spent a lot of time hanging out in a cafe playing cards. We did, however, experience an evening of traditional Rajasthani dance the other night which totally blew me away. Women with exquisite balance dancing and spinning with pots of fire on their heads, a shimmering peacock dance, a puppet show, and the finale: a woman stacking metal pots on her head and doing tricks. She got up to 9. Six pots were stacked on her noggin when a man came out and poured broken glass on the ground. She then stomped and danced upon it. Hahahaa, how crazy is that?! The best Rs 60 I ever spent.


Here are a few pictures from Udaipur:


the world's largest turban!


new friend


floating palaces from fancy rooftop


Friday, October 31, 2008

Octopussy


Greetings everyone!

If you're interested in seeing what life is like in Udaipur, and being entertained at the same time, go rent the James Bond movie Octopussy (Roger Moore). A few of the magnificent palaces around here are shown and the city life is pretty accurate, except there is more dirt, garbage, and traffic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Sleeper Train and the Case of the Lost Wallet


Hello everyone! We have successfully survived an overnight sleeper train from Jaipur to beautiful Udaipur and are staying in the lovely Hotel Hanuman Ghat. We're planning on relaxing here for several days before hitting the road again.

The Case of the Lost Wallet
Being the wise man that I am, I neglected to remove my wallet from my pants pocket before going to sleep on the train. I was on the upper of three two-foot wide berths, and Stephanie was on the middle one. I rolled around quite a bit during the night, trying to maximize my comfort the best that I could (no matter how futile it seemed to be).

On the fifth time that I woke up, I had the realization that my wallet may have fallen out of my pocket, so I searched my pants, but it was not there. I searched my kurta, but it was not there either. Ohhhhh boy. I looked around and noticed that the man that was sleeping on one of the lower berths on the other side of the cart was no longer there. Did he take my wallet and book it? Ohhhh boy.

I searched my pockets again. I searched my kurta again. No wallet. It's okay I thought, just relax, perhaps I put it in my bag, but I really not no hope that it was there. And it wasn't. Ohhhh boy. So, I checked my pockets again. I scoured my kurta again. No wallet.

I grabbed my flashlight, hopped down to the floor and looked around, and luckily enough, there it was. EUREKA! I grabbed my now dusty beast and stuffed it carefully in my bag, zipped it up and climbed back to my bed where I thought about how lucky I was before falling back asleep.


Anyway, today is the big day for Diwali, so make sure you celebrate with plenty of lights and maybe some fireworks.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Happy Diwali


Today is the first day of the 5 day Diwali festival. We are in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan, it is night time and the city is glowing brightly with tiny butter lanterns, firecrackers and gaudy, blinking light displays. We enjoyed the view very much from the 14th floor of the Om Hotel, in the revolving restaurant!

We've been traveling quite intensely the last few days, have covered a lot of distance. It hasn't always been pleasant. After spending 2 nights at the Golden Temple in Amritsar (which is an amazing place that swept me off my feet that I'd like to talk about for a minute just here inside these brackets ... All are welcome; it is a sanctuary! Waves of people sit in lines on the floor, their plates filled with dahl, rice, vegetables and chapati bread [which is made by machine apparently, and is actually not very good but it doesn't matter much because it is a gift]. That's right, free food - and accomodation. They feed ~40,000 people a day. It doesn't matter who you are; if you are hungry, you are fed. The temple itself is lovely, and we waited in a long, sweaty line the first day to see inside, but enjoyed much more walking around barefoot [before entering one must remove ones shoes, wash ones feet and cover ones head] on the white marble around the temple at night. I felt so peaceful during those walks.) Where was I? Yes, after spening 2 nights at the Golden Temple, we got on a sweet 5am luxury train to Delhi, had lunch and then took a bicycle rickshaw to the bustand where we learned no bus from there went to Agra, so we got on one of those crazy Indian city buses you read about for a half hour ride to another bus stand where we hopped on another one of those buses you read about for a 6 hour ride to Agra. After crashing, we woke early EARLY to go to the Taj Mahal for sunrise. It was spectacular, and we joined in with everyone else in photo fever. (We were more goofy than the rest though.) After breakfast we got a supposedly delux bus for a ride to our current location, Jaipur, which took way too long because of all the stops made to pick up and drop off bags of some sticky sugar liquid that dripped on us and our stuff.

Tomorrow night we plan to head to Udaipur on a sleeper train. We've heard it's very nice there and I'm hoping it's somewhere we'll want to spend some more time. The worst thing about many of the places we've passed through lately has been the air quality. I feel like in the last week I've shaved some chunk of time off my life just from inhaling so much air thick with exhaust and garbage burning. The garbage burns are brutal - on every corner around here. Gahyuck! Please take a deep breath in and, if you're lucky enough, enjoy your relatively pure dose of oxygen.

P.S. There are lots of camels in this province!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fifty Percent!!


Believe it or not, we've made it 50% through our trip! Day 57. It feels good.

We left Dharamsala for Amritsar yesterday afternoon. The start of the ride was incredibly beautiful. Driving through Kangra we got to see the Himalayas in all their glory. Unfortunately, we weren't able to get any photos, so you'll just have to trust us that it was amazing.

The bus took us to Pathankot where we decided we'd get a train to Amritsar for.... EIGHTEEN RUPEES!!! We couldn't even believe the cost for this supposed 3 hour train ride over 107km, but when we finally got on it ended up being fairly comfortable. Perhaps our definition of comfort has decreased since arriving in India. The train wobbled when it finally got going, but spent half the trip sitting around waiting for other trains to pass the single track that was available to us.

So we're here now. Amritsar, home of Golden Temple. This place is equivalent to the Vatican for Sikhs. It's a wondrous site. We're staying overnight for a crazy slumber party with the Indians in one of the many dormitories they have available for free (by donation).

Monday, October 20, 2008

Wig hats!


on our way to enlightenment

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Meditating with Monkeys


We're out! We're out! Yes, the rumours are true. We have made it through our 10-day retreat in silence, learning about Tibetan Buddhism. Now, the time has come for me to share nothing other than our encounters with the lovely monkeys of Dharamsala.

The monkeys around Tushita are very clever and rather sneaky little guys. We were warned that if we were eating any of our meals away from the dining hall and some monkeys approached, it was best to just hand your food over to them, since they would take it anyway. Since we had heard similar warnings in the past, I wasn't too concerned about it. I mean... they're just a few monkeys, right?

Well, it turns out we lived very intimately with these creatures and I will share three encounters with you.

The Cookie Thief
From 2-3pm everyday we were allowed to speak in small groups of six to ten people. These were our assigned discussion groups. After a few days, one of the members of my group thought it would be nice to bring a package of cookies for us to enjoy while we discussed different points of Tibetan Buddhism. What a lovely gesture, I thought, and apparently so did the rest of my group, as the next day three people brought packages of cookies!

Three packages!!! A FEAST! Oh boy oh boy, so we quickly devoured the first package and opened the second. Discussions took our attention away from the cookies and towards each others' hearts. It was really the most lovely part of the day.

Anyway, back to the monkeys. So, as were were listening to one of our group members speak, a monkey slowly crept up and crawled silently between two of us. Before we had time to even acknowledge that a monkey was sitting in the middle of our circle, it snatched the package of cookies at incredible speed and ran away to consume them in a nearby tree.

We laughed heartily as did all the neighbouring groups. Oh, you little monkeys.

The Apple Snatch
Often we had the opportunity to eat apples as part of our lunch. We grabbed as many as we liked from a bucket where they had been sliced in half. Being an apple lover, I grabbed a half, put it in my salad bowl, and head outside to eat on the porch of the dining hall.

Practicing mindful eating meditation, I sat very quietly and observed every bite I took, taking special care to put down my fork between bites. While I sat there, surely as serene as Shakyamuni Buddha himself, a monkey saw the perfect opportunity for his lunch. He jumped down from a tree ran across a nearby roof, fell to the railing, scurried across the table, and SNATCH! He reached into my salad bowl and looted my apple!

Everyone laughed and the monkey returned to a tree just above where I was sitting and sat there eating the apple right in front of me. Oh, you sneaky little bugger.

The Revolution
One evening while we all sat in the gompa, we heard incessant monkey cries from outside. This was not altogether unusual, but this time there was quite a bit more than what we typically heard. So, Stephanie and I took a peek out one of the windows where we saw around ten monkeys just hanging around out front of the gompa. They just sat around in what Stephanie saw as a planning moment of the revolution when monkeys will take over. It lasted for 20 minutes and was really quite interesting to watch.

Around fifteen of us were just standing watching the monkeys in confused amazement. Oh, you crafty little buggers.


Anyway, hope you enjoyed this post. I've been at this computer for far too long now, so I'll see you later :-)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Om Mani Padme Hum


Yesterday we emerged from Tushita after ten days of intense learning and contemplation. I feel saturated and tired, inspired and happy. Along with the mystical aspects of Buddhism, there is so much powerful, logical goodness. What I saw as the heart of the Buddha's teachings simply felt like a summary of my upbringing.

Last night everyone who did the course, about 50 of us, met for dinner. It was really neat getting to speak to people for the first time after feeling like I already knew them through the silent experiences we shared.

For the next few days Pete and I are gonna hang around here. The mountains are beautiful and never seem to escape our sight, the place is colourful and compact (I keep running into people I know which is a great feeling being so far from home) and the Tibetan momos (dumplings) are delicious. Dharamshala is a place with a predominantly Tibetan population: this is where the Dalai Lama came for refuge and has called his home for the last 49 years. It is only since I've been here that I've really gained an awareness of the tragedy happening in Tibet. We visited the Tibet Museum this afternoon where there is an exhibition called "A Long Look Homeward". Eleven Tibetan refugees shared their recollections of the Chinese violence and oppression against their people, their fear that Tibet's history and culture will be erased, stories of their escape and their hopes for the future. It's very upsetting. I am very interested in talking to some Chinese people about the issue.

After that we went to the temple out front of His Holiness' abode. We went at a good time; we got to see a whole bunch of Buddhist monks debating. They pace back and forth and are extremely animated, one monk lunging at his opponent and smacking his hands together in front of his face, shouting something so profound, I suppose.

"Om mani padme hum": a Tibetan Buddhist mantra that generates compassion. Of all the mantras I've been introduced to, this is my favourite. (Mantras are a big deal on this side of the planet.) I will sing it for you when I'm home. I hope you're all well. Peace and love!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Itinerary Map Updated


Hi Everyone,

We have arrived safely in Dharamsala, albeit at 3:40 in the morning with nowhere to go. Tomorrow we begin our course, but I just wanted to let you know before we go in that I made a big update to the itinerary at Google Maps (see the side bar for small version, or click the link beneath for the full page). I just wrote some small descriptions of the places we've been, and I updated the pins to reflect where we are (and our trail).

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Peace Out, Manali


Well we're just about ready to leave Manali. Tomorrow will be our final day. I think we will take the bus in the evening, but we've yet to decide. Then we'll be reaching beautiful Dharamsala!

For those of you who didn't know, the Dalai Lama held public teachings in Dharamasla from September 30 to October 4, which we strongly considered attending. We were going to take the train straight from Rishikesh, but all the tickets were sold out. We decided it wouldn't be worth it to sit amongst thousands of other pilgrims, likely a few blocks away and around the corner from the Dalai Lama himself, so we didn't look into any other method of getting to the city. Of course there was also the fear of there not being enough guest houses for everyone!

Anyway, back to beautiful Manali. The most lovely place we've been yet. Everything is just wonderful here. The people are very nice and relaxed, the climate is perfect, the hotels are cheap. We actually changed our hotel from the Sunshine Guest House to the Paradise Guest House in Old Manali. It's a great place to stay. The water is hot, the room is clean, the owners are friendly, and it's only Rs. 200 a night (approximately $5 Canadian).

We were eager to go see the sulphur hot springs across the river at the town of Vashisht just outside of Manali, but upon arriving we were grimly disappointed. We had visions of a beautiful little pool in a cave or something similar, but we were greeted by a grungy little box in the ground in the middle of the town. We let the water pour on to our hands, but we refused to dip our entire bodies in that cess pool.

Besides Vashsisht, we've visited a couple temples, including the place where Manu (aka Noah who owned a really big ark) meditated after saving humanity and all kinds of other creatures. It was all right.

More interesting was the Hadimba temple where vicious animal sacrifices are given for three days every year in May. Tons of skulls of the animals are attached to the outside of the temple. Strangely enough, we didn't get to see the inside of the temple. Why, you ask? WELL!!! They were filming a Bollywood moving out front!! It was pretty funny to watch the actors poke their eyes to facilitate crying.

We stayed around to watch a few downtrodden scenes before heading out to be greeted by furry yaks and rabbits. Steph was actually swarmed by four or five ladies each with rabbits in their hands asking if she would like a photo with them (for money, of course). Little did they know, all Steph wanted was to be surrounded by the incredibly furry creatures and was completely satisfied by the swarm.

Besides all that action, we've just been chilling and eating delicious foods, a topic I prefer to leave to Stephanie.

Oh and before I go, I suppose I should mention that Manali is the Cannabis Capital of India. It's growing everywhere! It has quite a pleasant smell. Many of the locals sell charas (although it is illegal), which is basically hashish. Someone told me they make it by rubbing their hands on the plants the rolling the crystals they get from them into the charas. Cool, eh?

So we're sad to leave Manali, but we're hoping Dharamsala will be just as nice. We'll be doing a 10-day meditation course at the Tushita Meditation Center, in complete silence. To read more about the course we're taking, see Introduction to Buddhism.

See ya

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Mountainous Manali


We took the plunge last night and hopped on a 10 hour bus ride through a winding mountainous route to the astoundingly beautiful city of Manali, India.

Upon arrival this morning, we were immediately enamored with the place. It is so lovely. Snow-capped mountains in the distance, nearby foothills, beautiful trees and gardens, and best of all, no monkeys.

In the sun, it is quite comfortably warm. In the shade, it feels much, much colder. The forecast for today is a high of 20 degrees celsius and low of 3. Hopefully we'll be adequately prepared for sleep. Shimla had a similar climate, with a high of 20 and low of 9. I think this is the coldest it will get for us in India, which is awesome. :)

This is definitely the most beautiful place we've been to in India as of yet. Our hotel room is pretty large. In fact, it has about 3 rooms as well as a washroom and a balcony which overlooks a beautiful garden and snow-capped mountains.

That's all for now! It's dinner time.

Monkey Business


Before leaving Shimla we made the trek up, up, up to the Jakhu Temple (a temple for the monkey god Hanuman), which is situated around 2500m above sea level. It was a steep and tiresome climb, but when we reached the top we were thrust excitement and danger!

Monkeys! They've gone mad! They are very aggressive near the temple, since many visitors give them prasad (food offerings). They think whats yours is theirs. Oh boy!

As our guidebook had recommended, we rented a walking stick for Rs. 5 at the bottom of the climb to the temple, so we were well armed to deal with the foul beasts. We managed to visit the first temple without any confrontations, but as soon as we left, we were talking with an Indian fellow from England and a monkey crept up to him, jumped, hung off his backpack and ripped off a bag of prasad. It sat right there beside us eating the entire bag and picking up very meticulously all the little sugar balls that had scattered when it tore the bag.

It was pretty funny, since we were just spectators and nobody got hurt. Things were a bit different on our way down from the second temple when Stephanie showed her true, barbaric colours. We were alone on the stairwell which was crawling with monkeys. I began shooing some of them away with my stick, but Stephanie was awestruck by the sight of it all. I had walked maybe 10 steps ahead when I heard Steph shriek a warcry fit for a fearless amazon. She was afraid a monkey was about to jump on her, and managed to scare it away with her glorious, thoughtless, instinctive roar.

We stayed closer together for the remainder of the descent and experienced no difficulties :-)

In other monkey news, the day before we visited the temple, Steph was sitting on our balcony in Shimla when she noticed a monkey about 6 feet away from her on the roof. She called me out to come see, and out I came. Unfortunately, I had to walk directly beneath the monkey to get out to see it, but I managed to do it without harm. It looked angry. Furious, even. Quite satisfied by my short observance of the creature, I began to head back to the room, under the monkey again. This time he was scowling and I made a quick dash and just as it was about to jump on me, Steph let out an instinctive cry, "PEEEEEEEEEEEETE!!" which scared the monkey away. Thanks, Steph.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Up in the Clouds


We missed our train to Shimla, so we took the bus. Winding through forested mountains and scattered road stands that make up villages we got up to about 2200 meters above sea level. And that's where we are now, in Shimla, were the air is thin and quite chilly.

We were initally charmed by the steep and busy streets (the town is built up and down a cluster of mountains), the colourful fabrics in the street, our room with a view... but have encountered a bunch of rather unfriendly people today, and are not feeling so energetic. We did however find some wool shawls today to keep us warm, and Pete got a cute vest and hat outfit. And we had a great lunch: vegetbale dosa's at The Indian Coffee House. The place seemed to me like an old boy's club. Waiters in pouffy formal uniforms, a bunch of old Indian men sitting around in leather chairs, drinking coffee and talking seriously in the big, dimly lit space. It was funny and the dosas were sooooooooo good.

I think we'll leave here in 2 days. We've been asked to do a trek to Kashmir, and attend the Kashmiri wedding of the guide's nephew, but it is quite a bit out of our budget.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

From Doomsday to Luxury


So we left the ashram for Dehra Dun. Oooh boy. Were they ever right. Everyone told us to just pass through Dehra Dun, but we were interested in seeing a few things first. Well... things didn't quite go as planned.

We arrived to the usual, albeit a bit more aggressive rickshaw pullers and eventually settled for a ride to the OTHER bus station (we were at the wrong one for our needs). Rs. 30 later we're there and we decide we aren't really digging all the chemical fumes of Dehra Dun and we don't mind skipping through to Chandigarh, since there would be a train headed there in 45 minutes.

So, I go and get in line at the train reservation office (right adjacent to the bus station) and wait for 30 minutes to find out that goes from Delhi through Dehra Dun to Chandigarh (and beyond) does not allow any people on it in Dehra Dun. Tough luck, but we decide to put a smile on and head to the Forest Research Institute 8km away via rickshaw. We are dropped off at the gate with our heavy backpacks and we begin our hungry, slow walk towards the grand building. Boy oh boy. It must be a kilometer inside the gates.

After expelling some sweat and complaints about the weight and strain we were under, we made it to the main building, but found out everything around is basically closed because it was Saturday. Argh!! We took a short rest and walked around the outside of the building, which was all right. It's a huge building-- larger than Buckingham Palace-- and quite impressive in its construction. I managed to discover a couple of open museums that were pretty hilarious due to the childish sculptures of forests and houses that were within them.

Wondering whether it was worth the initial walk from the gate or not, we headed back the way we came. Hello Mr. Rickshaw, please take us back to the main bus station! On to Chandigarh! Goodbye, Dehra DOOM!!

So we grabbed some grub and hopped on a bus for a not unpleasant 6 hour journey to Chandigarh. Oh, Chandigarh! How (comparatively) lovely you are!

Our hotel, Hotel Satyadeep, is the most luxurious we have stayed at so far. Soft cushions, nice blankets, a shower, and air conditioner (which we don't use), a TV with HBO and a few other movie stations in English. Complete relaxation all for Rs. 700 a night (~$9 each). We didn't plan for such luxury, but it was the cheapest room the had available (regular cheapest is Rs. 500, no AC).

Chandigarh is pretty interesting. We did our little exploration today, but most places are closed because its Sunday. Steph, however, sweet-talked some gentlemen into letting us walk around the Capital Complex (High Court, Open Hand sculpture) without our camera.

We also saw the fantastic rock garden! We took several pictures, but perhaps less than were taken of us! Groups of Indians gathered around with their cell phones dying to have their photos taken with the fabulous foreigners. I took a couple of photos documenting the event. It was pretty interesting. They LOVED it! As for details about the rock garden, well... just wait until we have some photos posted.

Oh boy, this post is getting long, but I suppose I will continue what I have started.

Feeling the beckoning of hunger, we grabbed lunch at the Mermaid Restaurant and Bar, where Steph had a pint of a fantastic Premium Kingfisher beer. Perfect for the occasion. I learned never to order hot and sour soup in India.

Filled up, we spent our calories on a 30-minute paddle boat ride around a huge man-made lake.

Where to next? Well, how about the movie theatre! We hopped on a rickshaw to Neelam Cinema, but it was not going to be showing a movie until 6pm (it was only 3:30), so we began to head into the market to look around when we were greeted by a kind sikh man named Narvinder Singh.

This man was so lovely. He was so friendly and kind and kept teaching us phrases in Hindi. We sat and talked with him for a bit and he showed us this article about him from the newspaper saying how he was the only Indian helping tourists achieve budget travel in Chandigarh. And at no cost! All he wanted was a picture of him giving a bangle and a flyer to Stephanie, which we will send him later (or perhaps Steph already has).

Turns out this kind gentleman knows the owner of the Neelam Cinema and could get us in for a few minutes for free. So he took us in and we enjoyed 5 minutes of a Bollywood movie that had already begun. It was fantastic.

We said goodbye, and returned to our hotel, stopping at a small GROCERY STORE (!!! what!!!?!!) on the way. There we relaxed for a while before heading out to this grungy internet cafe, Cyber-22, we're in now. As luck would have it, just before we left the hotel, Narvinder Singh was there! Oh how happy we make him and he us. He is a real gem. He was there meeting a girl from Greece to escort her to a bus station (not stalking us!). I was very pleased because he thought that I had a great beard :D

If I keep this up, I think I will end up with RSI, so goodbye again.

P.S. We head for Shimla by rickety train tomorrow at 12:10pm, arriving around 5.

Friday, September 26, 2008

FOOD (part 1)


I've been meaning to tell you about what I've been eating for a while now.

At the ashram, they treat us well. Breakfast is served with hot chai every morning. Sundays we eat a bowl of chicpeas; Thursdays, the blob (we don't know what it is exactly so we started going out for breakfast on Thursdays); the rest of the week either a bowl of tumeric rice or a bowl of hot, sloppy, chunky, chewy wheat and coconut porridge. Can you guess my favourite?

Lunch and dinner are the same deal: a mass of white rice (which I stopped eating 2 weeks ago when I got a cold), a bowl of dahl, a scoop of curried vegetables and fresh, hot, buttered (or not) chapati bread. Often some raw cucumbers or tomatoes are served on the side, and a guy usually goes around with a plate of green chillies if you feel like spicing things up. You can have a second helping but you've got to finish everything on your plate. That hasn't been a problem with me. I love this food.

ashram grub


Now I want to tell you about a few wicked things I've tried here in Rishikesh.

"The Himalayan Health Pancake" (Madras Cafe): A huge whole wheat pancake spread with curd and honey, decorated with slices of apple, papaya, orange, banana and pommegranite gems. SO GOOD.

Street samosas: Two of 'em in a banana leaf bowl, a sweet red sauce, hot green chilli sauce and pinch of spice on top, eaten with a wooden spoon. (Pete's already mentioned the ones we get at The Office.)

large masala chai and a chocolate banana samosa


"Lemon Nana": Fresh mint lemonade in slushy form.

"Origanic Greek Salad" (Prem Namaste Cafe): A bed of cabage topped with tomatoes, cucumber, olives, feta cheese, grilled potato and eggplant, pineapple, mixed nuts, raisins, parsley - sweet and creamy dressing. I didn't mind that it wasn't your typical Greek salad; it was nice to eat all those raw veggies.



Traditional rice pudding: On the 12th anniversary of Shayla Mataji's husband's death, we were served this for desert. (Shayla is an old holy woman who has lived at the ashram for, like, 30 years.) It is so creamy and comforting, made with tiny rice and lots of cardamonn. Mmmmm..

Crazy peanut sweet: Everyone loves this stuff. It's kind of like fudge. Twice I've been handed a piece on the street as I I came across a parade; we also get a piece every Monday and Friday night after Kirtan.

Images of Rishikesh



Ram Julah Bridge, ~10 min walk from our ashram


Pete in a quiet street


sweet spot


back when his beard was tame


pretty young women


objects of worship


behold the Ganges!


Leprosy Bibing Hall


Yoga Niketan after breakfast


cabins


flight of the monkey


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

30 days later


Hari Om!

We have officially been out of Canada for 30 days! Hope you guys are surviving without us ;>. We will be leaving the ashram on Saturday and continuing our journey of India, of which 84 days remain.

Our upcoming plan includes:

Dehra Dun Forest Research Institute Museum, Great Stupa & Buddha Statue
Chandigarh High Court, Open Hand, Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden
Shimla Viceregal Lodge, Himalayan Bird Park, Jakhu Temple, and maybe a pony ride!
Manali Nature Park, Buddhist Monasteries, Hadimba Temple
McLeod Ganj (Dharamsala) Tsuglagkhang Complex, Secretariat of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Tsechokling Gompa
Amritsar Golden Temple, Jallianwala Bagh, Ram Bagh

We are toying with the idea of a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat in McLeod Ganj, which would include intense practice of vipassana meditation (mindfulness meditation) and complete silence.

Note: I have made an update to the Lecture post to reflect some information that he has added recently, namely that only one of the steps is required for an aspirant to reach purification.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Neti (Nasal Irrigation)


Due to undesirable weather conditions, we were unable to practice neti in class yesterday morning (bummer!!)

However, being the enterprising individuals that we are, we purchased ourselves our very own neti bottles and cleansed our nasal passages on our own. Unfortunately we still do not have the rubber tubes you use for flossing, although I may pick some up today.

Here is the wikipedia article on neti: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nasal_irrigation
The benefits of the treatment include:
  • Clearer vision due to cleaning of the tear ducts
  • Decreased use of medication
  • Deeper, more relaxed breathing
  • Improved sense of smell and taste
  • Improved sinus-related quality of life
  • Reduction of symptoms

If you're interested in getting a neti bottle... maybe we can pick one up for you. We can get some fairly small, travel-friendly sized plastic neti bottles here for cheap, so let us know!

Mantra


Hari Om!

This mantra we recite before every meal and it is occasionally recited before commencing meditation and yoga asana class.
om saha na vatu
saha nau bhunaktu
saha veeryam karava vahai
tejasvainav adheetam astu
ma vidvisha vahai
om shantih shantih shantih

It is explained as
Om may he protect us both (the teacher and the taught)
By revealing knowledge, may he protect us both (by vouchsafing the results of knowledge)
May we attain vigour together
Let what we study be invigorating
May we never quarrel with each other
Om peace peace peace

I've got a sore throat! Time for some honey-lemon-ginger tea :)

Pete

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Wash Away Your Sins


On our day off, five of us from the ashram went rafting down the Ganges River. After paying the feisty Indian and eating a big pancake breakfast, we piled into a truck full of moldy life jackets and helmets built for small heads. The three back seats being taken, Juliana, our German friend, and I daintily climbed and sat atop the deflated raft in the back of the truck. Before take off, three Indians sat on top of our friends in the truck and four more hopped in the back with us. And so we were off, moving parallel to the Ganga, zooming up the dusty mountain.

After some time on the road, we climbed down to the river bank carrying our gear. The Indians ran for the water and threw themselves in it. I waded in up to my knees while the trip leaders pumped up the rafts.

The love people around here have for this river is remarkable. "Bathe in the Ganga and you will wash away your sins," they tell us. This water, which we have heard is filthy, they believe is the purest in the world. It is often called "The Holy River". Every night at sunset in a temple in town a huge ceremony is held to worship and thank the Ganga. For Rs. 5 at a public ghat (bathing place) you can buy a small bowl made of banana leaves, filled with flowers, incense sometimes, and a small candle to offer as a sacrifice to her, the river. I have done this a couple times. She is quite a sight when black with night and adorned with glowing gifts following her downstream.

So on the Ganga we went! We passed under busy bridges, paddled hard through tumbling rapids, and then when the river moved more smoothly, our leader told us to get out of the raft. We floated with the Ganga - in the Ganga! All the while Indians were waving from shore, tall grass was swaying with the beat of an unheard rhythm, roots went running down to lick the wet rocks, mountains were moving behind one another, trees marching atop them. Experiencing the scenery in this way was magnificent. At some points I did not know that I was not the river herself.

Tratak


Since it's been a while since we last post (and because the last time I went to a cyber cafe I couldn't remember what I wanted to post about), I am posting on another subject as well today.

The subject is Tratak, a process which vastly improves concentration, is one of the methods of purification (that I left out in my earlier post), and is said to improve eyesight.

There are two different approaches a beginner may take and I will mention both.

1. Draw a black spot on a sheet of white paper big enough to nearly fill your field of vision. Spend a few days just staring at this and concentrating on it. You are ready to move on when you can narrow your field of vision to see only the spot. Then shrink the size of the spot. Continue doing this process until you the spot is 1 inch in diameter.

2. Choose an object of "best choice", something that you love most, that you feel no aversion to. Place it before you at a looking distance (about 3 feet in front of you while seated). Concentrate on this object.

In the above two methods, when I say concentrate, I mean that you will stare at the object and that is it. You stare at it until you feel light strain in your eyes or until the point of tears. When you feel the strain, close your eyes and visualize the object. When you are ready, open your eyes again and repeat the process.

Eventually you will move beyond circles and favourable objects to neutral objects.

That is the first step. The second step is to sit and try to draw the image of the object from memory. Close your eyes and try to visualize the object which you focused on (this does not apply to the black circle). This is called remembrance.

The third step is to assemble a group of objects and do tratak and remembrance on each one.

The fourth step is to go to a solitary, peaceful place. Sit down and think of someone who you love most. This person is already in your memory, so you can simply close your eyes and visualize them.

While visualizing and concentrating, there are two different practices. You can either attempt to have no thoughts and simply observe the object, or you can think of all attributes of the object and gain deep knowledge about it.

For instance, if you are doing tratak on a flower, you may think of its colour, its structure, the texture of the petals, but you should not be lead astray by tangents and begin thinking about bouquets, weddings, families, etc.

If you are attempting to have no thoughts, it is unadvisable to try to force thoughts out of your mind. Resistance = Persistence. Instead, gently bring your mind back to focusing on the object.

Once you have mastered tratak, you will be able to computerize your memory and be able to relive experiences that you have had in the past. Say you visit a very beautiful garden, but it will not be easy for you to return there. Then you can practice tratak on the garden and keep it in your memory. By remembrance, you can "open the key to memory", and be there whenever you please.

Nasal Flossing


Howdy doodah! (There is a greek man here who always says that to me and chuckles. I think he thinks that it is a common Canadian greeting.)

I hope everyone is doing well in Canada. We're doing great here in India, although the past few days have been very hot. Today is beautifully cool. :)

Last Saturday we had our second nasal cleansing. I think we are both fairly proficient at pouring water in one nostril and having it come out the other now. We didn't attempt the pushing from mouth to nose, but we did do the nasal flossing with a rubber string.

That's where things got interesting. I was very determined to do it this week, and I was having no success. While I kept trying to stuff this string up my nose I could hear Steph laughing and speaking exasperatedly with a yoga teacher who was helping her stuff it down her nose (whether she liked it or not). I tried and tried and tried and had no luck. Soon there was only 3 people still attempting to do it and the yoga teacher, Naveen, who had previously been helping Steph approached me.

"May I?" Of course! And so he began stuffing it down my nose for me. Wrong hole. Wrong hole. Wrong hole. Oh this time we got the right hole. OK Now reach and grab it! Do not worry, this is only a problem for first time (gag reflex). You do it. Nononono do not pull it out. Too late, I couldn't get over the gagging and I had to withdraw the string (it is more like a thin tube with 1 closed end). He left me be for a bit and I kept trying, but I could not get it down the right hole.

Eventually I was the only one still trying to do it. Then Naveen came over to help me once more. He said, "This time you do it. I will do it for you." Not knowing exactly what this meant, I agreed. Wrong hole. Wrong hole. Right hole! And down it went again to the back of my throat. "I think this is right way. Yes this is right way."

Now it was in there and I soon learned what he meant by "I will do it". I started reaching in to grab the tube and he shoved my elbow, pushing my fingers deep into my throat. I grabbed the tube and pulled it out my mouth! SUCCESS!! And so I began flossing, posing for photographs, and salivating like crazy. Unfortunately, we didn't get any photographs, since our batteries were dead, but hopefully someone will send them to us.

When I was satisfied, I pulled it out my mouth and that was that. Can't wait to try again next week.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Short and Sweet


Just a short one today.

Steph has started to eat meals very quickly. It's fascinating and surprising. She is very proud and also somewhat alarmed. At least she smiles and mmms occasionally (when we get this cabbage dish and in the mornings when we have porridge) ;>

The restaurant where we purchase our delicious fruit samosas from is called The Office. FANTASTIC! We are heading there in a couple of minutes for another unforgettable indulgence...mmm....

A bientot

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Indian Beauty


I had an ayurvedic massage today at a beauty parlour in the oldest temple in Rishikesh. I booked it yesterday when my body was a heap of aching muscles, and my timing was a bit unlucky because today was the first day since I've been here (doing yoga twice a day) that my body felt just fine. I went anyway.

There is no blanket to hide under and the masseuse does not leave the room for you to undress. She closes the curtains, crosses her arms acorss her big bust and tells you take your clothes off. The only nonesense involved in the undressing, perhaps, is taht the underpants are not removed. As Bublee, that's her name, massaged up my thighs, she went ahead and tucked my undies tightly between my bum cheeks so she could get to work on my buttocks.

The oil used is supposedly a healthy, herbal, medicinal oil. It has the distinct scent of very sweet black licorice allsorts. Nearly your entire body gets covered with the stuff; she even rubs it into your face, behind your ears, between your toes, into your scalp. Aside from the occasional fingernail scratch, and maybe the thong, the only uncomfortable thing about the massage was while lying on my stomach, Bublee spontaneously - magically! - in one motion thrust my heel to my bum and cracked all my toes.

I visited the beauty parlour earlier in the week to get henna on my hands and feet. I sat on a bed while Madu, the owner, drew and her sister smiled at me and asked me questions. Pretty girls came and went from the room, always curious, always giggling. Many told me I have a beautiful face, but they can't understand why I wear my hair short like a child or a boy. Madu's 2 year old nephew was ripping around the room, shouting and grabbing at things, until he took notice of me. He insisted that I have a bindi, a dot between the eyes that married women wear. My hands were locked in a rigid position so as not to disturb Madu's work, and so the sister, delighted, stuck a big, circular velvet sticker on my forhead. Everyone laughed, and the boy seemed satisfied.


henna'ed feet, waiting to dry


shine from a sugar and lemon juice mixture

Lecture


Hari om!

Today I would like to expand on a certain part of our schedule, the lecture. Monday through Saturday, at 3:15, we have the opportunity of grabbing a cushion and sitting around a wise old man and listening to him speak.

This man, this swami, has a thick beard and wavy white hair (both around 3 inches in length) and a very gnarly nose. He is 87 years old and lives at just about the highest point in the ashram, which is very impressive, since he walks (very slowly) all the way there and back several times a day without the help of a cane.

There are usually very few people (1-5) at the lecture. It seems that many people will come on their first day and never return-- most because they cannot understand what he is saying due to his accent and their unfamiliarity with english. I, luckily, can understand very clearly and have been attending regularly for the past week and a half.

His speech is very repetitive, which helps things sink in, as well as build up patience in the listener ;>. He says the same things to all the new people:

First you comes purification. Then comes concentration. Then comes meditation. Then comes realization.

The question comes, how to purify the mind? I will tell you. The aspirant must only choose one that he likes best. Only one is necessary for purification. When you wish to teach others, you must practice them all.

First Truth, universal love, selfless-service. You cannot have purification without this.

Second Recitation of mantra. Loud recitation of mantra brings physical purification. Mental recitation of mantra brings mental purification.

Third Bhojan Kirtan. The singing of devotional songs and playing with musical instruments. Singing of devotional songs brings internal purification and playing of musical instruments brings external purification.

Fourth Listening to Kirtan. Listening to devotional songs with concentration will bring purification.

Fifth Tratak.
Sixth Pranayama. There is simple, medium, and high pranayama. Simple pranayama is breathe in, breathe out. Close left nostril, breathe in, breathe out. Open left nostril, close right nostril, breathe in, breathe out. This is single clearance. Close left nostril, breathe in, open left and close right, breathe out. Breathe in left nostril, breathe out right nostril. This is cross clearance. Then breathe in both nostrils, breathe out both nostrils. This is full clearance.

Medium pranayama is breathe in, breathe out. Stop. It uses same techniques.

High pranayama is breathe in, stop. Breathe out. It uses same techniques.

Seventh Silence. The sky is the embodiment of supreme silence. When the mind is silent, it is absorbed in the sky. It is like a rain drop falling in the ocean. When it has fallen, one cannot say where is the rain drop.


The main goal of the lecture is first to answer any questions the students have. Once all questions have been exhausted, he speaks to us on whichever topic he feels like.

Anyway, that's all for now. Hope you enjoyed this little peek into our daily lives! Thanks for all the comments :)


Pete

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Rise and Chai


Namaste!!

This week has been tough - both physically and mentally. Between morning and evening yoga and meditation, meals, clothes washing, studying hindi and an afternoon nap (that is necessary to not falling asleep during evening meditation), there is little room for down-time. We're keeping our heads above water though..

I will certainly write about all the food I've consumed in detail, but not right now. It's time for chai. Just to be clear, chai is made by boiling fresh creamy milk with sugar and masala spice mix. It's a big deal around here - and it makes sense. Not only does the milk nourish the body, this little cup of flavour is a small pleasure in the lives of many people who have very little.


where we're at


a view from our ashram


sunset on the Ganges

Mountain Falls, We Survive



Today is Sunday, and our schedule tells us that it is our day off (sidhu I believe). At this point, I'm beginning to wonder whether or not that's a good thing. Today we went on a grand adventure to a waterfall up in a small mountain.

After climbing up it for forever, we reached the glorious tiny pool of water where we swam to our heart's delight. Then Steph thought it would be fun to keep going up and seeing what we could, so we climbed for another few eternities before reaching a tiny temple (the size of a large dog-house). That's when we decided it was time to head back down.

Each step was a shaking struggle, but we did it.

What did we find at the bottom of the mountain? Nothing other than a traffic jam! So we kept walking, walking, walking and eventually made it back home. To think we started the day mending our sore hamstrings-- I don't want to think of what life will be like tomorrow morning.

We took some cool photos while we were up there, which we'll happily share when we get back. It's hard to upload any while we're here since they are rather large and the connection to most sites we visit is very slow.

On another note, we discovered a "restaurant" where they serve fruit-filled samosas! Apples! Banana Chocolate! Coconut Chocolate! MMmmmmmmmmmm!! Sooo good. I think I will have a few banana chocolates after this posting...

Life in India is swell, although I'm sad to have missed my Raja-G biscuits today (Steph convinced me to come to the cyber cafe and thus miss tea time).

Om shantih shantih shantih

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Ashram Life


Turns out the cool air on our first day in Rishikesh was not common place. After walking for hours in the extreme heat of Delhi the day before arriving, my feet were so swollen they no longer fit my sandals. (I hammered in a couple new holes using fine tweezers and a masterlock.) Not as hot as Delhi, but it sure is HOT around here. A bit of rain now and then, tail-ending the monsoon season, brings moments of relief but otherwise after breakfast I am sweating until dusk.

The yoga has been amazing - we are both very sore from our sessions yesterday - and the pranayama (special deep cleansing breathing techniques) feels very powerful to me. Unfortunately, the meditation has been a struggle. Getting up to meditate at sunrise or trying to meditate at the end of a long hot day as the sun sets has proven to be very difficult when we're so tired. I keep nodding off. I think we're going to try out afternoon naps and see if things get better.

There are lots of neat people staying at the ashram. A couple from Germany, a world traveller originally from Ohio, many from Japan (this ashram is well known there), a sweet woman from Korea... and the staff are all really great. One old guy told Pete he'd better get rid of his beard. "Only old men have beards here." He, however, had none.

Neither of us have gotten sick yet. (I hope I don't jinx us.) We've voluntarily introduced some of the Indian water into our system by brsuhing our teeth with it, washing our dishes with it. I have a feeling the acidophilis (probiotic) we're both taking is helping.

On with the day!

Deep inhale, deep exhale

Just thought I'd check in to tell you guys about our flight to India. We left Pearson International and got to Newark without any problems. Leaving Newark we had to it on the plane for about an hour before lift off, presumably waiting for a runway to become available. This felt like an uncomfortable eternity.

Once we finally had lift off, we could tune into our personal LCD screens mounted in back of the headrests of the chairs in front of us. Many options were available. We could watch anything our heart desired, with a choice of about 100 television shows and 300 movies available to us. We also had the option of playing low-tech video games, since our personal remote control tripled as a video game controller and keyboard.

We ended up playing sudoku and space invaders, as well as watching some Curb Your Enthusiasm-- very funny. I think Steph watched Maid of Honor while I watched Pulp Fiction.

As for the number of people on the flight, there was far from maximum capacity. We were the only two in our three-seat section, which granted us the luxury of taking turns lying down to sleep.

How about the food? Not bad. Really! Not great, of course, but definitely not the worst food we have ever eaten. Although I wasn't too into the plain yogurt, or the vegan burger Steph had.

All in all, it was fairly comfortable flight, and it's time to sign off!

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Google Maps Itinerary Update

I've updated the map at le google. The red pin indicates where we are. The pins with black circles in the middle are places we have yet to visit.

Oh and I also want to mention how crazy it was arriving in Rishikesh. As soon as we made it into Rishikesh, we literally turned one corner and the temperature decreased by 10 degrees. It was bewildering!

The Race That Never Ends


O my goodnesssss. Inida! Mother India!! After landing, we were wisked away to Paharganj, the poorest neighborhood in New Delhi (I don't think we knew this when making reservations), where we spent two nights at Hotel Namaskar. Enormous cows and skinny dogs (many lactating but with no pups around..) wander around docily, eating whatever they find. Confettied egg shells glued together with greening yolks, shit spliced into sections from bike wheels, rotting, slimy greens, stagnant puddles of urine, old paper packages... all of these things make up the streets of Paharganj. Waste of all sorts is everywhere and it is picked over again and again until it is swept aside by some diligent street vendor and becomes permamently a part of this place, it seems. I'm glad we stayed where we did because I don't think we would have been brave enough to explore the area in depth had we approached it from a nicer side of the city. Plus the best chai I've had so far was made by a guy around the corner from us. (a cup cost Rs. 4 = 10 cents)

The driving is mayhem. NO EXAGERATION. It is a miracle there aren't accidents everywhere. (A couple times I thought we were done for.) Indian drivers make European drivers look ilke sissies - and Torontonians like babies. It is a constant race; everyone is always trying to pass everyone else. They will drive on all sides of the road at absurd speeds and the noise is deafening. (The most important part of any vehicle is its horn.) Yesterday we took a 6 hour taxi ride from New Delhi to Rishikesh (where we are now). People running through traffic, bicylces, auto-rickshaws, non-autorickshaws (a person on a bike pulling a little wagon with 2 people or so), cars, vans, buses, trucks, cows, horses and wagons... and us in the back of a car with the most determined dirver of them all. In 6 hours we were not passed once. I can't imagine how long it would have taken us to get here if my mom were driving. ;)

It is great to be here in Rishikesh. This place is les chaotic than New Delhi and we are right on the Ganges River! There is a big suspension bridge to cross the Ganges and it looks stunning from afar when filled with women in bright clothing, baskets on their heads, motorcylces, cows and mokeys.

We've got stuff to do now. We've been taking some pictures and will try to post some at some point, but I'm realizing how inadequate pictures of this place are. Being here all your senses are tantalized, challenged, spanked, awakened. The smells, the sounds, the HEAT, the flavours... of course, the visuals are quite something.

ONE MORE THING: this morning, after the most intense yoga class I've ever experienced, we flushed our nasal pasages with salt water.. and attempted to floss them. This might not make sense to you; it seems crazy to me too.

Hope everyone's doing well at home!

Alive in Rishikesh

Hello everyone,

We have survived two very, very long days in Delhi and now are enjoying a peaceful, cool time in Rishikesh. We have seen a lot of crazy things, and berated with people trying to get money from us, but it's been okay. I think we are both very happy to be gone from Delhi for now, although we miss our morning chai (over here the chai is basically orange pekoe tea with milk and sugar).

The Yoga Niketan Ashram that we are staying at is pretty lovely. We have a room together in a cabin infested with ants, a hybrid toilet with bidet and two very hard beds. The good part is that it overlooks the the Ganga river and it's fairly quiet.

We have a strict schedule while we stay at the ashram. It's as follows:


4:30am Morning Bell
5:00-6:00am Meditation
6:30-7:30am Yoga
8:00am Breakfast
-- time to do what we please, but it is recommended to study in the library --
12:00pm Lunch
3:15-4:15pm Lecture
4:00pm Tea
5:00-6:00pm Yoga
7:00-8:00pm Meditation
8:15pm Dinner
9:15-10:00pm Kirtan (Mondays and Fridays only.. not sure what this is exactly, but I know it involves singing)


We get Sundays off, except we have to clean from 6:30-7:30am. Not really sure what else to say at this point, so hope everyone is doing well back home. We are grungy over here and are looking to buy some clothing soon! Two shirts over 4 days is not a great choice!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Peter's Pack



the contents of my jam-packed backpack

1. polysporin, prescriptions, acetaminophen, burt's beeswax, sanitary spray, floss, visine, bug spray, elastic bands, toothbrush (not pictured)
2. notebook, black pen, poetry, master padlock, personalized harmonica (key of C), usb key with portable applications for safer use of cyber-cafés
3. shorts, t-shirt, pillow case
4. soap!
5. blurry underwear
6. led flash light
7. lonely planet travel guide to india
8. aluminum water bottle filled with precious canadian water
9. 3 pairs of wool socks, bathing suit
10. money belt with passport and plane ticket!
11. copy of important documents
12. microfibre towel
13. kleenex, deodorant, universal plug, sleeping mask, ear plugs, tweezers, nail clippers, aaa batteries, safety pins


ca c'est tout

Yates Packed Up


the contents of my backpack - ziplocked for monsoon protection!!

1. three pair heavy duty socks, six pair undies, sunglasses
2. adult rain poncho
3. lollipops to give to children
4. first aid kit
5. to be declared: sunscreen, shampoo/conditioner, deet, toothpastes, etc.
6. camera, camera accessories, batteries
7. plane snacks, napkins, fresh sketch book, pencils, pen, a novel, big river band mouth organ (in the key of C)
8. money belt: passport, cash, etc.
9. for grimy sleeping situations: sleeping sheet bag and pillow case
10. nasty meds, probiotics, multivitamin, iron, omega-3 supplement, diva cup, floss, toothbrush, bar of soap, wet naps, tom's deodorant
11. two plain white t-shirts
12. canadiana to give as gifts
13. night vision: flashlight and candle lantern
14. micro-fibre towel
15. to be stashed away in the pack: photocopy of important docs.


O Canada

There's lots of room left. I'll throw in a roll of toilet paper..