Friday, 30 March 2012

The magic of Rajasthan and laughter

Ok so, the beach again, I can certainly see a pattern emerging here but hey, what else is a girl to do after two weeks of sheer hardcore discipline!! I had arranged to meet a lovely young lady whom I met in the ashram in varkala.... Little did we know then that we would be partners in crime and constant laughter for the next up and coming month.. Much of our time together was spent from beach to beach, rising at seven in the morning to do pranayama (breathing techniques) yoga on the beach, a few cartwheels into the calm morning ocean all followed by a massive breakfast, the subject of our motivation!!! The beaches varied, we started in Gokarna a very chilled place not too unspoilt by tourism. Each beach, connected by a walk over some headland had a scattering of beach huts and restaurants. Life here was easy and slow, everybody would be stoned 24/7 and as a source of amusement the odd drug affected old man dressed only in a flapping sarong would stumble freely up and down the sand throwing his arms around and well, just generally looking a bit nutty, priceless entertainment. Next stop Palolem in southern Goa, a completely different atmosphere from Gokarna, more of a holiday destination but Lou and I thought it was time for a bit of partying. March 8th was to be 'Holi ' festival in India....Holi is a religious spring festival celebrated on the last full moon of the lunar which lasts for two days. It's the beginning of a new season, a time for enjoying springs colours.. The atmosphere is filled with excitement and joy, the strictness of social norms is lowered and basically everybody goes crazy!!!!..
On our usual walk to our newfound perfect yoga spot on the beach we appeared to walk into some colourful chaos. Hundreds of jeering, cheering men covered head to toe in coloured powder were piling into the sea fully clothed like a big happy colourful riot.
After our morning routine, we were ready and armed with coloured powder and set off hop foot to the beach ready for action, we waited, we watched but all that happened was a few boys finding a good excuse to smear colour over us western girls in our bikinis, what a disappointment...we decided that the evening would definitely consist of colour laughter and dancing so we got our glad rags on and set off for silent disco... Maybe I am a little behind times here but, silent disco, what an amazing discovery. Lou and I proceeded to smear ourselves, each other and anybody else who crossed our paths with colours before sticking on those headphones and dancing non stop until the very early hours of the morning..without a doubt, dancing, laughter and colour put together creates the perfect life therapy.
After more beach lounging and just one more silent disco it was time to bid farewell to the south and begin my journey upwards, destination Rajasthan..
My city stop off in Mumbai, at first, wasn't as bad as the previous ones. Having heard many horror stories about this city, I was pleasantly surprised. A two hour walk to find a guesthouse through the hussle bustle of morning business and a very pungent fish market all with my house on my back gave a good insight into a small part of the city..Although Mumbai is an incredibly busy metropolis, throughout the day spent there I found a certain charm to it. Unfortunately that charm didn't quite spill into the next day... I had woken up all out of sorts, wrong side of the bed and had a long journey ahead of me. It was hot, I was down and sent from here to god knows where to get my bus. No one would give a straight answer, when indians say yes a huge percentage of the time it means no or don't know.. I was lost in this sprawling metropolis. I remained calm and held on to a little bit of trust remaining inside me and once, finally on the bus, in my tiny but big enough for me bed space I settled down, watched the sunset drenched scenery rushing past through the open window and a sense of security crept back into my soul and an air of excitement swirled around my head for my new up and coming surroundings.
Udiapur, I fell in love. A city set upon a massive lake. My guesthouse roof top looked upon hundreds of charmingly beautiful matchbox buildings with textured walls, crumbling colour and carved windows. Below, on the steps leading down to the water the ladies would be doing their washing, from dawn until dusk, slapping the wet clothes against the concrete creating a loud banging noise which echoed into the atmosphere. The small streets were filled with smiley people, bursts of electrical colour from the ladies saris, doorways and windows surrounded with intricate, colourful and happy folk indian art and of course an abundance of the forever wandering and still amusing to me, holy cow.
I spent a week in Udaipur. On my birthday I created a small gathering In the guesthouse rooftop restaurant which turned out to be fun and as a birthday present to myself I took full advantage of the cheap dentists and had my forever nagging root canal fixed..the rest of my time was spent with my new found friends, the French boys with whom I didn't stop laughing with for the next ten days. We reluctantly decided to escape the charm of Udaipur to the smaller, more rustic and less effected by tourists Bundi which also held its own charm. Here we explored and ventured further out on a motorbike ride to a waterfall and although dry at this time of year, the pool below was a total oasis, the beauty of nature buzzing all around along with a highly inquisitive local family, totally stunned with our presenceabout 15 gathered around aged from 6 to 60 with their dark dark eyes fixated on our alien presence, pearcing through our skin and seemingly into our souls!!! Although just slightly irritating after a while it also stirred some amusement amongst us. The journey back from the waterfall, during sunset through some of the smaller villages will definitely stick in my mind and provoke my favourite memories of magical Rajasthan. Ladies dressed in the most stunning bright saris carrying huge silver earns of water upon their heads with pure elegance and grace but mixed with such strength, the greetings and the smiles, the shouts of "hello, what is your name" with such sincerity and eagerness from the children, the older generation men sat in squat position, randomly on the side of the road, the bright fiery colour of their turbans set of against their clean white clothing, the scents shifting between the strong waft of growing garlic to the sweetness of jasmine and motorbikes swiftly overtaking us, the female passenger sitting side saddle proposing a mysterious yet somehow flirty glimpse through her veil and the goats...hundreds of the quirkiest creatures trotting along the road being herded by immaculately dressed older ladies..As we approached the main town of Bundi an abundance of eye catching, bright powder blue matchbox shaped houses were in full view set against the crumbly monkey palace set on a steep hill..The people in Bundi are so friendly and there is a huge amount of art and creativity, as there is in all of India..
I entered Rajasthan feeling somewhat blue with a hint of grey maybe but the vibrance and energy of this magical environment soon burnt through those lingering clouds. If anybody chooses to visit India this is a destination with many nooks and crannies that should not be missed.....
It was tough saying goodbye to my French boys but the show had to go on and I held very fond memories and deeper laughter they headed off to the Taj Mahal I climbed upon yet another sleeper bus and headed off for Rishikesh... The yoga capital of India, mmmm! Well more about my opinion on that in my next post.

This part of my journey had many ups but it also had a few downs. What I have learnt or perhaps confirmed is that smiling and laughter can definitely help turn negatives into positives. I have always loved to laugh and I can't express how important I think it is in life to be able to have a good old roar
!!!! It may be difficult to do sometimes but have a go, it really does work!!!!

Namaste. Xxx

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Hill stations and jungle lodges

In my head I have just had a million arguements with a million Indian men as to why their country is so overcrowded, why they all have moustaches and to why they have absolutely no consideration for a small white girl whom they are squashing on this insanely overcrowded bus!!! Im not moaning, just venting...... I have been on 7 local buses in 3 days, it's incredibly cheap but as mental as a box of frogs and believe me, that image is fairly accurate..but yes, it's all part of the process... Part of the fun.. My last two weeks have involved a lot of travelling from a to b to c and now, as a reward to myself, I am having myself a week on the beach..a very beautiful beach too with hardly any tourists or travellers......
I thought it was time to leave lovely Hampi after my yoga guru thought he was going to whisk me off into some kind of spiritual bliss alone in his hut, he called it aligning my chakras, I know it as something different. I am happy to say I didn't oblige but speedily flew out of the door and didn't return for 6 pm meditation...That day I hired a bike, a pink beast like my one in London and cycled for miles in the stifling heat and was accosted by small children in one of the villages. I managed to make a speedy getaway but was a bit disturbed about the barricade of very young Indian boys pulling their trousers down in front of me.. What a strange old day!!!
My next destination was to be the highest of three hill stations in the Tamil nadoo district. It was here that I thought I would be able to feed my thirst for mountain treks and lush green scenery.... The journey involved a very uncomfortable overnight bus to the city of Mysore where I stopped for a night in a fairly grotty room. Mysore itself didnt really hold a lot for me except for a palace ( think the pavilion in Brighton) and a man cornering me for 100 rupees for taking a picture of something irrelevant, I refused. I was happy to get on the bus the following morning and had a very pleasant 5 hour journey spiralling upwards into the hills through Breathtaking views, small villages and even the privelidge of watching a family of elephants heftily cross over the road and make their way into the jungle.
The air was fresh and cool when I stepped out of the bus 2000 feet above ground level, quite a contrast from the heavy pollution and bustle I had happily left behind in Mysore. Indian cities are SO overcrowded but when in the countryside you have to wonder where everybody has disappeared to and where they are all hiding!
After finding a guesthouse and completing all of the bureaucratic rigmarole neccessary to just put your head down for a few nights there were a few hours of daylight left to explore a little..
Ooty was established by us English in the early 19th century and even though development set in when India gained independence a few decades ago the English touch most definitely still remains. Whilst strolling through the quirky streets, past small shops, houses and kiosks specialising in varieties of handmade chocolate, I felt a warm, perhaps familiar feeling, reminiscent of a small, old fashioned seaside village toned with shades of everyday Indian life..The beautifully manicured botanical gardens and the racecourse which is fully active in the summer, definitely added to the quintessential English influence that was present and I could clearly picture a summers day there spent at the races in the clean fresh air, a country pub being the only missing ingredient..
The sun had gone down and the warm temperature had most definitely joined it and by 7.30 it was freezing cold, something which I hadn't been used to for weeks. It was hardly surprising that everybody was wearing wooly hats and ear muffs! The change in temperature was quite a shock to the system so after a quick dinner I was tucked up, fully clothed, under a thick blanket watching some nonsense on the only English speaking channel I could find on the television... Ooh the luxuries!
An early rise and a hearty breakfast were in store the next morning as I had arranged myself a trek for the day. There were around 10 of us driven to the starting point, a spot surrounded by sweeping hills against blue skies and bright sunshine and in contrast to the night before the temperature had welcomely risen to a very comfortable heat. To be honest the adventurer inside me was hoping for a hardcore mountain trek, a battle against the rapids and a fight with a wild animal but instead it was a more gentle walk through bright green coloured tea plantations, healthy looking vegetable crops and a mountain far less strenuous than I had anticipated, albeit enjoyable and picturesque. For lunch we stopped off in a mountain village and ate vegetable thali with our fingers and drank sweet refreshing chai..the small village which we reached after lunch was made up of small square vibrant concrete houses with colourful doorways and lines of hanging washing dotted around, a scene I will never tire of and alive with small children eager to have their photograph taken..
I spent a couple more days in Ooty, strolling around the botanical gardens, taking trips on local buses and as it was the weekend being mobbed by hoards of boys wanting their picture taken with me. I can imagine that there are quite a few pictures of westerners circulating indian social network pages tagged as their " new friends" we really are a novelty as far as they are concerned but it's always best to cover up as much as possible when posing as goodness knows what else these pictures may be used for!!!
Another of Ootys' charms is the miniature steam train which descends out of the hill station providing a romantic and stunningly scenic route to lower ground but once again if you are not careful and don't book before hand you will be sandwiched in a jam packed carriage, there really is no limit!!
By this time I had joined forces with two young men also eager to find some hardcore trekking.
Still unsure if the jungle lodge we had found was able to fit us in we headed to the gruesome town of combiatore where would have to wait for a phone call. When I say gruesome, I mean it, dust laden, smelly, polluted and overcrowded never the less necessary for an evenings stop over, a city pattern was definitely emerging.
All systems go the next morning and although we still didn't know the destination of the lodge we jumped on a bus towards the border of Tamil nadoo and Kerala where we were picked up by a jeep and driven further into the hills. An hours drive on a rickety road and we were greeted by our host Dominic. The first beauty of this hidden place was the location,. There were only two huts available for guests in the midst of the trees and wildlife fitted with the surround sound of natures own symphony. The second was Dominic and his endless amount of passion and admiration for his habitat. From once owning a busy cafe in Bangalore he gave it all up one day and hours later he was sleeping in the jungle and from there built his paradise from scratch, inspiring!
A two night stay here turned into three and could have easily turned into more as the days of trekking, followed by the evenings filled with delicous food and interesting conversation, silences filled with mating calls of female birds and the continuous hiss of the crickets were quickly becoming addictive. The trekking was fulfilling to say the least.. The first day we climbed a waterfall, walked through fields of banana trees and stopped off for chai where the oldest man of the village at 65, making him the leader took an immediate shine to me bless him! The next day I swore a lot. The climb up the mountain was slightly challenging but nothing intense where as the way down was atrocious as it always is.... Apparently, well definitely as I slipped in it, we were following the poo trail of an elephant. Now elephants have strong leathery skin and since I have been wearing a very high factor recently my delicate skin hasn't got there yet!! I was scratched to smithereens, sliding down banks through thorn bushes or holding on for dear life to the vines of a tree but hey, this is the adventure I craved!! It was true to say that I was happy to get back for lunch that afternoon....
So there we have it. I now feel like my trip to the real India has finally begun, just a stop off at a gorgeous beach for a few days to rest my weary bones and heal my jungle scars and I can start again....
Oh and the moustache craze I was wondering about... Apparently facial hair of such kind proves masculinity and verility the reason why the cultivation of facial hair remains almost essential in my new surroundings...

Thursday, 15 December 2011


When I first arrived I arambol I was accompanied by two overly confident Israeli girls who had " done India many times before", they annoyed me and I felt lonelier in there company than I would have done without them so I politely said goodbye and thank you for their help.... I was on my own and good! After a sleepless night in a room with a very loud fan I thought it best to embrace the day and do some exploring. At first I was intimidated by the place, it then crossed my mind that this feeling wasn't unusual to me as I have felt it throughout my life; starting new jobs, going to places by myself, a feeling of stepping onto the territory of others and the only way to get over it is to stay and find my way as I probably would have felt the same in any place I landed....I changed guesthouse to a room wit a ' better feel' , I found a very good yoga class and a very good patch of beach away from the fuss..
Unlike your usual ' holiday resort ' arambol has a different feel and a great mix of people working together in harmony.. On one end of the spectrum there are beautifully tattooed and pearced hippy/ traveller types, filling the beaches at sunset drumming away, dancing, juggling... Groups of people taking tai chi classes run by men in flowing white suits (sorry to say but cringeworthy), your older traveller singing happy songs, eyes closed and full of love and then you have the Russians...set upside from all of the free flowing love and melodic vibe the Russians fall into the ' stiff and abrupt ' category, if there is such a thing. A bit like aliens landing on earth, but as I said everyone relaxes in harmony, in their own individual ways making it a fascinating place to sit aside and people watch.
My days are now filled with 2 hours of yoga, followed by a very welcome brunch to cure my ravenous state and then relaxing on the beach, although relaxing on the beach does consist of telling endless sellers on the beach " no thanks", everything from jewellery, sarongs, drums, ear cleaning and today a guy was trying to sell glitter balls..WHO wants to by a glitter ball when they are sunbathing? Giving the persistence of these people I am sure somebody ends up adding one to the endless amount of tatt they have been forced into buying and furiously stuff it into their luggage ready for it's cupboard bound existence back home....
All in all arambol has a friendly alternative vibe, the locals are charming ( a few perverted!) and you can get a mean fish curry.... And on that note now is my time to stop writing and go indulge in my new favourite taste sensation........

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

2 weeks in......

So, two weeks ago I started my adventure to india and here I sit, 9 o'clock in the evening, overlooking the Arabian ocean, with a beer and waiting for a fish curry.... Now is the perfect time to start my blog.....

My first two days were spent in Delhi.. I arrived at my guesthouse wiery and was happy to find a friendly looking room with a massive bed, I slept almost immediately and woke up mid afternoon disorientated and a bit apprehensive as to what I was to do next but then I thought food!!!!! I spent the rest of the afternoon researching on where I was going to taste first of many delights.. A taxi dropped me off at my carefully chosen location where I ate real Indian ( vegetarian ) food.... I wasn't sitting alone for long as two very friendly fellow englishmen spotted me and asked me to join them which was comforting for my first night....

The next day I spent roaming around Delhi, my patience being tested by the CONTINUOUS beeping of horns.. Many people had warned me that Delhi was full on, too much, but quite honestly I wasn't overly intimidated as my expectations were far worse.. After being harassed by a rancid looking beggar and then more gently harassed by some rancid looking men I found a cute little restaurant near my guesthouse where I filled up with more delights and then so forth to bed...

Good news on awakening, my seat on the train to goa had been found so off I went on a very rickety rickshaw to a very busy train station where I was very happy to find my spot which was to be my bed for the next two days and yes I literally slept for the entire journey....

After very nearly missing my stop I ended up being " saved " by two Israeli girls and after sharing a taxi ride with them I have ended up here in arambol where I shall make my base for Christmas..... The place is full of hippies and Russians, busy but a friendly vibe. I have found a great yoga class ( two hours long and strenuous) I am bronzing myself and eating lots of fruit!!!! I have found I very quiet stretch of beach where I while away the hours reading and planning my route for the new year.... This will be my place for Christmas, and although I will miss family and friends at least I will have the warm glow of the Indian sunshine upon me. Xxxxxxx