A Travellerspoint blog

May 2012

India: Sikkim

My tale of treks and adventure through the gorgeous cross cultural, Nepal / Bhutan straddling state of Sikkim...

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I spent a wonderful week or so in gorgeous Sikkim to tour the famous Monastery Loop.


To enter Sikkim you need a permit! This is a mere formality to keep track of tourists.
I applied for mine in Darjeeling. It took 10 minutes at the Sikkim Tourist office there.
The lady who processed my application was particulary enchanting :-)

Journey from Darjeeling

I left tranquil Tranqulity Hotel early in the morning and took a bumpy share jeep to join anotherbound for gorgeous Pelling!


"Offical" map of Pelling

Pelling is a gorgeous. tiny, hospitable and friendly hilltiop town; with truly spectacular views!

I spent 2 nights here at the wonderful Kabur Guesthouse which has a view lookin out over the mountains from the rooftob restaurant.
I hiked the surrounding areas stopping at Pemayangtse Monastery and Rabdentse Palace Ruins.
I also met a lovely family from Mumbai who asked me what caste I am from.... it took some explaining that this kind of social hierarchy does not exist in my country.
Giving my profession seemed enough for them to continue talking to me ... phew ;-)


Scenic hike path

Rabdentse Palace Ruins:

Khecheorpali Lake

Took a very cramped share jeep to Khecheopalri Lake. I think at one point there were 15 passengers (albeit mostly tiny school kids).
When we finally arrived after the 3 hour journey, I met up with others from Kabur who had hiked from Pelling (it was raininhg and I was knackered from Singalila still). We all then hiked up to Lake Nest View Guesthouse.
This place is fantastic. It feels like the most remote place in India - tuicked into the lush hills. The hosptality is incredible. 3 home cooked meals a day, the most comfy rooms (and comfy beds!) I have had all trip.
There were other trekkers from Netherlands, USA, Germany and USA, so it made from a cross cultural couple of days.

Whilst there I trekked the surrounding areas, exploring the lake area itself and then up to the mountain peak that faced our guesthouse.
It was a really peaceful, and chilled few days. Just what the doctor ordered.

Trek to Yuksom

I left Khecheorpali with Andreas, Roberto and Natalie (from Germany and USA) for the long but gorgeous trek to Yuksom.
We took in monasteries, villages, gorgeous waterfalls and amazing mountain views along the way.
Whenever we passed ANYONE they would always smile and wave. Sikkim is probably India's friendlest state!

We bunked down at Wild Orchid Guesthouse in Yuksom upon arrival. The manager there was really helpful in advising on transport, etc arounmd the state.
Yuksom is a great trekking stop. Good food, atmosphere, socially conducive, friendly locals and a great view of the snowy Himalayas!!

As I straggle behind fellow trekkers:

Yuksom to Tashiding

This was a tough trek. 19kms, but again, truly gorgeous. I would say this was the most picturesque leg of the monastery circuit!
The path isn't always clearly defined ,and there were some baffling forks (on some occasions we took the wrong option and ended up at a farmhouse - being offered tea nontheless!)
Sikkim is a land of boundless, breaktaking beauty. The mountain ranges are ENORMOUS. Vertigo sufferers should avoid! :-)

We arrived in Tashining, a bit worn out. Thankfully the local cafe had plenty of momos ready!

I left my non essentials locked away in Yuksom, so bid my fellow trekkers farewell and chartered a private jeep back that evening.
The driver was an enthusiastic young fellow - and despite his lack of English (dominant languages are Nepali and Hindi) we managed to have a conversation as we swerved through the mountain 4WD tracks in the pouring rain, at astoundly high altitudes, with clear view of the surrounding mountains decorating our window view. Nice.
Only in Sikkim!

Thanks Sikkim! (and West Bengal)

I decided to return to Darjeeling to sort my travel to Bodhgaya.
It was a LONG morning in share jeeps, but worth it upon arrival to good old Darjeeling.
I love that town!
Took 3 days of return visits to the train station for faffing/queing/shoving/qualifying ambiguities to get confirmed tickets to Bodhgaya (this is India after all). Though Darjeeling is not a bad place to get stuck in at all!

Photo Gallery

You can see all my Sikkim photos here

Now to Buddha's place of enlightenment for Vipassana and om shantiness.... Bodhgaya, Bihar.

Posted by SkinnyFists 06:36 Archived in India Tagged darjeeling trekking_india sikim monastery_loop Comments (0)

India: Darjeeling, Singalila Trek and Himalayan Views

Herein lies a tale of elevated social bliss and well earned, amazing Himalayan views; following exhilarating trekking.

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The cab ride to Kolkata airport is long, slow, noisy and "aromatic".
My driver weaved in and out of congested lanes with similar daring as Han Solo and Chewbacca showed in their Millenium Falcon.
The flight to Bagdogra was a brisk 1 hour.

I took a taxi to Silgiri, then hopped on to a share jeep for the swerve-y 4 hour journey up the steep mountains to amazing Darjeeling.
Share jeeps are the primary mode of transport in these parts (the roads and inclines are too dicey for buses) - typically with 3 rows, and always crammed!

Next to me were a couple of local retired businessmen.
'Kumar' a retired military officer explained that he was stationed in Perth for a while.
He was born in Darjeeling and went to pains explain how much better it was when the "British were here". Elaborating that it was a much better run, cleaner and nicer place in those days, and that his home town had since fallen into decline.
Darjeeling isn't the glistening romantic hilltop station it may have been - but it is gorgeous all the same and has a warm, welcoming and vibrant charm.
I was so sad to leave when I did andmany other backpackers I met here expressed the same sentiment.

Kumar insisted on walking me to my guesthouse and to show me points of interest along the way.
Anyone might think he was leading up to a hard sell of something, but it became clear that he was a local dignitary. People stopped him in the streets to say hello and issue respect. I arrived at my guesthouse door very informed on my host town.
As Kumar went on his way he told me to ask around for him if I needed.
Darjeeling is that kind of place. You can afford to let your Varanasi or Rajasthan induced guard down a bit here.

Let's get trekking!!!

On my first day I roamed town and booked in for a trek, leaving the following day…

It was just myself, and another backpacker Sam (from London).
We took a jeep to the edge of Singalila National Park, which straddles India and Nepal.
As such we criss-crossed in and out of borders. At some points we had to pass through military check points to show our passports and visas - without much hassle.

This trek was pretty tough with some very steep gradients indeed!
The actual distance was somewhere between 35 and 45 kms depending on who you talk to.

Day 1
The views on the first day were very limited, as it was cloudy, but the weather cleared up pretty much for the rest of our journey.
For the evening we stayed in a home stay, along with another trekking group of gents from Kolkata.
We had a delicious veg curry with dahl for dinner, and a nice chat on Indian travel, Bollywood, and (of course) cricket - which I can only provide limited input on these days.

By 9 everyone was exhausted and ready to crash.
It reached bitterly cold temps in the evening, luckily there were nice thick down donnas at our beds.


Day 2
The morning was clear and bright.

We soldiered on again. This was the longest leg - 19kms and some really steep gradients.
We passed through many small towns and villages.
One thing that puzzled me was - how the heck do they get supplies (building materials, etc) up here?!
Our guide really kept the pace going - which was good in a way, because we didn't dilly dally and got to our evening destinations with a good amount of light left.

We arrived at our hut within thick mist and cloud - we really couldn't see beyond 5 metres.
The night was cold and dark (no power in the huts), but the hut manager made us a hearty curry dinner, before a retreat to slumber under 5 blankets.

Gorgeous Rhododedrons amongst the mist:

Day 3
The highlight!
The previous day, we climbed to the peak of Mt Sandakphu, though visibility was poor!
We had no idea of the view we would get in the morning.

At approximately 4:45am, our guide bashed on the door to tell us it was clear outside and to come and see the view.
When you see the magnificent Khangchengdzonga in clear view for the first time, your heart stops!


To the left you could see Everest in the far distance:

Absolutely mind blowing. Worth every step/climb/trudge!
(Link to full photo sets at end of this entry.)

Most of the final day was a decent, which uses completely different muscles. I felt my legs shaking about half way down!

This was a trip highlight....

Throughout the trek it was difficult to tell whether we were in India or Nepal!
Though, just before departing on a jeep back to Darjeeling we had to pass Indian border and passport control.
All in all it was a truly amazing experience.

Unforgettable Darjeeling

The rest of my time in Darjeeling was brilliant - it is one of those towns where you get to know most of the travellers there, and one where you could easily spend weeks!
My trekking buddy Sam and I went to Happy Valley tea plantation which makes tea exclusively for Harrod's. It was quite interesting, and definitely gorgeous! We also went for high tea at ……

Joey's Pub is a great hangout to catch up with other travellers. I had two good nights in there chatting with backpackers and locals alike. Sam and I got talking to a couple of guys who work in Bollywood as producers. They gave some great insights into Indian culture and the ins and out of the (enormous) entertainment industry.

Budgeteers - if you stay in Darjeeling - book Tranquility! It is one of the best guest houses I've stayed in India for the 500 rupee region.
The rooms have hot water, cable TV, comfy beds - and the front facing ones have unobstructed views of the lush mountains. The staff were excellent and the wi-fi was fast. What more could you want?

I left Darjeeling in a share jeep with great memories, new friends, sore legs and a smile!


You can see all of my Darjeeling photos here

Singalila Ridge trek photos here

Onwards and upwards to Sikkim……
Skinny Fists out.

Posted by SkinnyFists 19:32 Archived in India Tagged trekking himalayas darjeeling khangchendzonga singalila Comments (0)

India: Kolkata

Tale of my brief, awe inspiring visit of the giant, bustling, jovial, contrasting and cultured capital of West Bengal

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Kolkata (Calcutta)


Took the leisurely early flight from Port Blair to Kolkata.
As soon as the taxi ventured from the airport, it was total chaos; different kind to Delhi and Mumbai. Kolkata makes those cities seem spacious, clean, and sweetly aromatic.
Having said that, once you delve into this city, you realise it's a truly amazing, friendly, vibrant, artistic, jovial and colourful place!

Plush Lodgings

I treated myself to 'Chrome', touted as a boutique 4 star hotel (AUD$80 per night). I would say the service is better than 5* hotels that I have been to. Nothing was too much trouble for the young hip staff.
This hotel has won several design awards and I can see why - gorgeous, cool and ultra functional. The shower hits you vertically and horizontally!!

It felt super luxurious to have a proper hot shower, watch back to back movies, have a super comfy bed with quality linen, order proper western room service, have 0 noise pollution, and check out after 10am!

Exploring Kolkata

Yes, OK, the poverty in Kolkata is right in your face. More so than any other city I have seen, ever.
Like all Indian cities, the duality of rich and poor is staggering - but Kolkata is on a completely different scale.
Heavily guarded Rolex and Gucci stores, with young mothers and street kids sitting outside. This kind of thing was everywhere.

However, I barely came across any begging and everyone street-side was busy - making food (or joyously consuming), selling wares, washing cloths, carting stuff around, hawking, etc.
Kolkata is all hustle and bustle and I met nice folks everywhere I went. Shop assistants to internet cafe attendants were all keen for a chat.

I ventured to Park St first. Nice restaurants, plenty of book stores, etc and walked around.

Busy Park St, full of those indestructible Ambassador cabs:

I then walked around relatively aimlessly for two hours, in relative awe.
I like museums and temples, but only in small doses. When I travel, the most interesting thing to me is walking around and experiencing the day to day. Kolkata is the most fascinating city in India for that!

I caught up with my buddy Ryan who was on his way to Nepal.
We went to the super busy New Market area in search of some Thai food (to no avail), and then to Victoria Memorial. This St Paul's like building is set within a gorgeous park, reminiscent of a mini Regent's Park (London).

Spiderman watches over New Market:

There was some kind of festival happening that we couldn't really figure out.
On stage, a wonderful group of musicians played traditional Indian music with soaring vocals and intricate tablas. These performances were interspersed with long lectures (I think in Bengali), presumably on spirituality.
Surrounding stage and seating, were different and interesting stalls - one bookshop selling only communist works (mostly Chinese and Cuban), whilst some sold religious texts, etc.

Thanks Kolkata, it was a pleasure!

It was a short, fun, interesting and eye opening visit to Kolkata.
I was initially deterred from visiting West Bengal's capital, but so glad I did.


Off to Darjeeling now for some mountain ramblin', whoohooo!

You can see all my photos from Kolkata here

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:48 Archived in India Tagged india kolkata Comments (0)

India: Andaman Islands

Herewith a tale of a jungle-tastic, blue watered, super relaxed, sociable haven!

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Port Blair

I flew Mumbai to Chennai and then on to Port Blair.
I had planned to head straight to Little Andaman or Havelock, however all ferries were booked out, so booked for the next day.
Port Blair is a nice, small, bustling friendly town, though you can't swim anywhere near it!

On my way to the ferry bound for Havelock, I stopped at a cafe. Some older local dudes wondered if I was Indian, and even after I explained my gora-ness, they offered to share their samosas with me.
People on the Andamans are very relaxed festive and friendly people - this was my experience across all islands!

Port Blair:

Havelock Island

It was roughly a 2 hour ferry ride to Havelock from Port Blair, stopping at Neil Island on the way.
At Havelock I found Blue Bird Huts, which was the cheapest (and actually nicest) air conditioned option on beach 5.

Havelock Port:

Beach 7 BLISS

I hired a bicycle and rode the hilly 12kms to Radhanagar Beach (Beach 7).
The ride is hard, but great fun. Kids want you to stop to take photos every once in a while and everyone waves.
You cycle past lush green fields, farms, an occasional temple and family homes.
If I return to Havelock, i will get a scooter though - the hills are tough.
The beach itself is AMAZING. White sand, crystal clear blue calm water, with lush jungle behind.
Some poll out there calls this the best beach in Asia. I think that is going a bit far - Nai Harn in Thailand wins that one for me, but this is a close contender.

Beach 7 entrance:


The Andamans are known for their amazing dive sites, and they do not disappoint.
I did my advanced open water with Barefoot (probably one of the best, social and professional companies I have dived with) and did 5 unique and spectacular sites including a wreck (50 metre length sunk coal ship), coral wall, night dive (octopi galore, schools of trevali, glowing plankton) bommies, etc. The sea life is rich and varied, and the surrounding islands are gorgeous!
On our first day we saw a massive leopard shark, and the last we had the largest manta ray I have ever seen circle around us for most of our dive.

The Andaman Islands attracts divers from all over the world, and I met a large international contingent of buddies to dive and hang with.

Chilled, Social Havelock

The Andamans are undeveloped, with hardly any people and as such retains a very easy going, island nature, despite the (albeit light) tourism.
Folks are friendly, there are no hassles, nobody is pushy, there are wide green open spaces everywhere. Food and accommodation is reasonably cheap (but internet is damn pricey).
It's a haven, and pretty hard to leave.

Havelock is probably the most socially conducive place in India I have been to.
It's easy to make friends, as spots to eat and congregate are few and it is usually intrepid travellers who end up here.

Evenings spent by fire on the beach with tunes, heady tales of mainland travel and marvelling at the fact that this place is $%&*ing amazing.

Neil Island

After a week of intense diving and a few late nights I decided to retreat for some R&R on Neil Island.
Neil Island is probably the most remote place on earth.
S p a r s e l y populated where time does not exist. There are only 4 (that I could count) choices for accommodation.
I chose Pearl Park, based on recommendations, and found a nice hut with bathroom for Rp250 (AUD$5) per night.
PP is right on the stunning beach, has a nice restaurant, friendly staff, has bikes and scooters, and has the ambience of a secret, hazy tropical island (which is exactly what Neil is).

I had lunch at the gorgeous Green Park restaurant:

The proprietor grows all of his own fruit and veg, and had fresh fish delivered in the morning.
I think he had a fresh batch of charras delivered too - as once he served my delicious fish and chips, the hazy scent lingered in the air.

I hired a motorbike to ride around. The scenery felt calm yet dramatic:

Like it's sister islands, Neil is lush, sparse, quiet, friendly and feels like a secret best kept.

Bye Andamans

The Andaman Islands were an amazing suprise. They are like no other place I have visited.
As India closely guards them from any landings from closer neighbours Burma or Thailand. The fact also that they are so far from mainland India means that they are, and feel remote.
The ethnic tribes of Northern Andaman are able to sustain their way of life without any interruption and barely any interaction with mainstream society here.
I hope these islands don't open up to development.
There are murmurs about opening Port Blair to international flights from Thailand.
Locals, even in tourism don't seem pleased with the prospect, and are certainly happy with the way things are.

Please enjoy my photos of the breathtaking Andamans here

Posted by SkinnyFists 22:53 Archived in India Tagged havelock india_beaches andaman_islands scuba_diving_india Comments (0)

India: OSHO!

A tale of my journey towards Zen....

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If you don't know about the late Osho, he was a controversial guru who formed a unique brand of anti religious Zen Buddhism (not oxymoron) combined with Zorban philosophical pragmatism. On this platform he developed programs of meditation, free thought, discourses, lectures, activities etc at successful ashrams here in Pune and the US.
He endeared himself to the spiritual masses and subsequently made an ENORMOUS fortune!
At one point Osho owned the world's largest fleet of (at peak 93) Rolls Royces, one of which still sits in the Pune Meditation Resort
He published over 600 works on meditation, relationships, spirituality, etc.

Having experienced his meditation teachings, his amazing "ashram", and seeing the man speak and engage (albeit through video recordings), I have to say he was one of the most interesting, informed, aware and charismatic individuals I have ever umm, encountered.
No wonder he had/has/will have so many followers!

Wikipedia entry:

Osho Meditation Resort

To be clear this is not an ashram. It is indeed a resort. The facilities are fantastic (swimming pool, gym, internet cafe, restaurants, etc), and there are not many rules.
The main meditation hall is almost indescribable. Like a cross between an Egyptian pyramid and the Tyrel Corporation building in Blade Runner.

You feel an enormous sense of occasion as you walk towards it - very effective for the meditations.
Inside the enormous main hall, the entire floor is a calming, cooling deep green MARBLE.
See the tour of this wondrous building here.

The surrounding gardens and parks, all owned (and subsequently bequeathed) by Osho are stunningly gorgeous.

There is a smaller meditation room that was Osho's private hall. His ashes are also there.
This room is grandiose in every sense of the word.
To reach it, you must pass through his private library and an odd room with a dentist chair.
Then, pass into the meditation hall. A large, perfectly circular room with 100% white marble and the absolute epitome of meditative opulence.
The ceiling is lined with an inner circle of crystals entwined with lights, which brings even more calming ambience to the room.
It has a very amazing energy. During some of the chanting and vocal meditations, the room acts as an attenuator and amplifier of sound - enhancing the the synergy of meditation practice.
It is indeed an place - fitting for the type of man I understand Osho to have been.


When we arrived, we had to fill in a series of forms, and take an on the spot HIV test in a small room adjoining the registration hall.
The gentleman doing the test was a registered nurse and the needles are sterilised / only used once.
I quizzed the officials, on the impetus behind the test. They could only answer that Osho wanted it, and this will never change.
Being issued a meditation pass is indication of the test proving negative.
WIthin 10 minutes we collected our passes and then went to buy our robes.
It is mandatory for all attendees at Osho to wear a red robe during the day, and a white robe for the evening meeting.
I couldn't find a concrete explanation for the choice of colours - though white in the evening session made sense that I can't put into words.


All meditations are very unique and different. Nothing like any that I have experienced before.
This was my first experience of expressive meditation (voice, movement/dance, shaking etc), though I have to say each was very effective indeed.

I participated just about all of the meditations on offer (daily) at the resort.
You can see how they all work, with detailed instructions and videos within this main site.

Though each were so very different experiences, after each I felt complete elation and slightly dazed. Like my world had been renewed.
This was especially true for the Kundalini - where everyone leaving the hall were rosy cheeked and grinning like Cheshire cats.
Interestingly I saw a band back in Goa called Kundalini Airport…. totally understand that name now :-)

Evening Meeting

A highlight of the day!
The meeting begins with everyone seated quietly in Osho's main Tyrel Corp mediation hall.

Welcoming Dance

Then, either the awesome house band, or some recorded music will start playing.
The piece is usually the same - an uplifting melodic, rhythmic piece that brings you very naturally into dance.
This is the time to be free - dance, jump, flail, express. The wave of energy reverberates from the marble floor and walls and you will join in!
One 3 occasions the music stops, and everyone will scream OSHO, then continue dancing with the music.
At the last stop, we scream OSHO! three times and then sit for the discourse.


Warning: some of Osho's strong anti-religious sentiment is relayed here.

During Osho's time as a living guru, much of his discourses were video recorded. Subsequent to his passing, the recorded discourses are played to continue the tradition.
Osho gave hundreds, if not thousands of discourses.

During our stay - Osho's discourses focused on the murder of a Catholic Trappist monk, Thomas Merton who wished to study with Zen masters in Japan, but was "inexplicably" murdered in Bangkok after asking the Vatican for permission to go.

This story provided a platform for Osho to very eloquently, and elaborately assert that organised religion is (to paraphrase) :

….nothing but murderous controlling corporations using fairy tale stories/rules/fear/false consequence to control the masses! These religions are all failing, sinking and imploding into irrelevance! They scamper for validity and will even murder their own, if threats such as Zen individualism could possibly be endorsed by their own leaders.

Some other points and paraphrased quotes I took from Osho's dialog:

  • As more westerners explore Buddhism and Zen thought, western religions will eventually be ignored, as they are no longer relevant.
  • Zen is the only path - think for yourself, delve into the deep consciousness, explore the deep freely.
  • When you take God out of the equation, none of these religions hold relevance. There is nothing for them to cling to.
  • There is no God, only beautiful nothingness, a void to fill as your own. What was this God busy doing before the Earth was created? What kind of person believes in an immaculate conception? In heaven and hell? These are simply fairy tales written by imaginative poets, and taken as tools to control you!
  • You cannot control a man of Zen.
  • Life is not an experience. The word 'experience' implies finality. There is no finality! We are always experiencing; flowing, continuing, aware, moment to moment; in this body, the next and the next!
  • Before taking the next birth we choose our womb. Choose the womb that will give you freedom in the next life. Your last thought in this life, will be the first thought when you develop in the next. Make free will your dying thought and it will become the first idea you formulate in your next life!
  • There is no authority in Zen. When a Zen master teaches, he will eventually move out of the student's path - so they can go deeper on their own and experience.
  • You cannot teach Zen, only guide the path. Zen must be discovered. Christianity does not understand this!

They don't allow their students to progress or even think for themselves - they teach autocratically. This is not teaching.

  • If Thomas Merton was a man of Zen he would not have asked to go to Japan! He would have simply gone! He was under control of Christianity, he was scared to think and act for himself.

He did not understand Zen to begin with, and would have only learnt theoretically - not experientially. This is not the Zen experience!

Osho's written summary of this discourse can be found here

To conclude the discourse, Osho always tells a joke to end on a lighter note. These were always lengthy with a cheesy punchline.
After all, enlightenment doesn't have to be serious!

It was a fascinating, occasionally humorous, and well thought out series diatribes. Osho was absolutely one of the most engaging characters and speaker I have witnessed.

Osho's dialog is clear, concise, intelligent, sometimes wry, cheeky and often induced laughter and cheers in the hall.
He is scathing of Christianity, sometimes of Hinduism, and definitely of India's materialism -even though he did own 93 Rolls Royces ;-)

Before moving on the the final meditation, everyone in the hall expresses gibberish - say everything you ever wanted to say, but felt you couldn't…. but in a foreign or make-up language - express loudly and fervently!

After roughly 3 minutes Osho indicates time for final mediation, and participants lie down exactly where they are and be still…

Final Meditation and Dance

Ignorance has no beginning, but an end. Enlightenment has a beginning but no end.

Osho's final meditation is moving, inspiring and renewing.
A paraphrase would not do justice here, but by the end, you have found and inner peace within the deep and glorious nothingnessssss…
You have returned to your.... original face. The most recognisable face in all of the of the East…. the face of Gautama Buddha.

Of course, there is a concluding round of dancing and rejoicing before returning to the world, renewed.

Departing thoughts

When I left Osho after 4 glorious days of meditation - I found an inner peace, power and glow, and an intensity that I felt only several times in this life Osho; the meditation, resort and rhetoric obviously isn't for everyone, but I got a lot out of it.

If you are interested in Osho, the Meditation Resort, meditations, Osho's rhetoric, discussions, etc then the website is very comprehensive.

OSHO! website


Of course, we are in Pune - and there is more to Osho in this lovely town!
Pune is easily the most affluent, and liberal city I've experienced in India so far.
The streets leafy and reminiscent of posh South Yarra in my home city, there is plenty of finer dining and most locals wear western clothing.
Bars are filled with men and women drinking joyously!
Everyone in Pune seems to speak English as a primary language. Every restaurant, internet cafe, etc was filled with locals chattering in English!

One night I went to meet Ana at a restaurant, wearing my South Indian mundu.
The the guy at the door looked at me in disgust, and spoke to me in Hindi (thinking I wasn't educated to speak English), indicating I couldn't enter dressed as I was (at least I passed for Indian, finally!). I replied in Queen's English that I was joining a friend for dinner and that actually a mundu is indeed appropriate dress anywhere, even Pune!
The surprised doorman apologised and took me to Ana's table.

We visited a shopping centre that was oh so fancy, and met a lady who helped us find a cinema. We went to see House Full 2, a big Bollywood extravaganza - with HUGE singing, dancing and super high tech fight scenes - all in Hinglish!

We left Pune, enlightened on an AC bus, bound for Aurangabad to see the Ellora Caves…

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:28 Archived in India Tagged zen pune osho india_meditation atheism Comments (0)

India: Pondi to Pune

Tale of an epic yet cruise-y journey across the country en route to Osho.

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Pondi to Pune

I felt my South Indian journey was drawing to a fitting close.
I'd heard so many different accounts and rumours about Osho; the man, the myth, unique meditation practices, and his opulent ashram........
It would be a missed opportunity not to go to Pune.

Fellow intrepid traveller and dudette was also curious enough to make the long journey and check out Osho.
We had an interesting time on motorbike trying to find Pondi train station to get tickets, as we had both arrived by bus.
Getting lost in a city is a great way to discover it. We met some interesting characters whilst asking for directions - and when goras are cruising back streets (albeit looking lost), locals seem to find humour and delight - saying hello, smiling and waving and occasionally asking for their picture to be taken.

No tickets available for tomorrow… but an early start the next day enabled us to get TAKTAL (2AC seats) for the 25 hour train journey leaving the following - from Chennai to Pune.

From Pondi to Pune it is roughly a 30(!) hour journey (not including wait times between bus and train)

Chennai Stop

First - a 4 hour air con bus ride ride to Chennai where we met Ana's Indian pal, Mukesh. He took us to Chennai beach for sunset.
It was a really nice stop.
Chennai beach isn't exactly Goa or Varkala - the water is horribly polluted and the sand is browny-grey.
However, the atmosphere is great!! Lots of food stalls - chilly corn, cooked fish, popcorn, ice cream… and smiling folks everywhere playing music full blast, distorting from their mobiles phones, taking photos (Indian's love photos, and are photogenic); unwinding from their day of work or study.

Train to Pune

Waiting for the epic train near Chennai Central:

At 22:30 our train to Pune departed Chennai Central. We had 2AC seats so had plenty of space to sleep and reeeelax.
One of the fellows in the berth opposite was a fierce snorer and I had to wake him up a few times to try and get him to lie in a different position.
The horrid fables about Indian trains told by those who haven't been here are largely untrue.
As long as you book an AC seat the toilets are routinely cleaned (often there is a western style available), as are the berths (even mopped every 8 hours or so), and passengers get fresh linen upon arrival.

Lunch and dinner are served on the train (or you have 15 minutes at major stops to get off and find something). We didn't have much choice; Thali or Biryani. We got one of each and shared - for both meals.

We arrived in Pune late and found a nice hotel easy enough - this one had an Osho book store attached.

We registered for Osho the next the morning...

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:50 Archived in India Tagged chennai pune trains_india india_beaches Comments (0)

India: Pondicherry and The Great Escape

I, South Indian: my account of adventures in Pondi & Auroville, plus adoption traditional south India dress and a frantic escape from tidal wave threat.

sunny 34 °C
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Pondicherry is a French flavoured town (a French colony until recently), with some nice grandiose architecture, happy vibe and great food.
Being part of Tamil Nadu, the folks are staunchly pround of their ancient dravidian language, Tamil, and as such it is rare to find a Hindi speaker here.


I left Sivananda feeling great and ready to take on a new world.
Took the bus down to Trivandrum and booked a flight to Chennai, then found very agreeable air conditioned lodgings close to the bus stop.
A quick 1 hour flight across Kerala and Tamil Nadu took me to the lightly chaotic Chennai airport. The bus to Pondicherry was LONG!
First I took the local bus to the main bus terminal (1 hour), and then the Pondi bound bus - which was a 4.5 hour dusty sweaty ride, but so much to see and hear along the way. It was an interesting trip!

Discovering Pondicherry

Got to Pondi later in the evening, and stayed at Kailash Guesthouse (really gorgeous place, run by the kindest fellas in Tamil Nadu)

The next day my travel comrade, Ana and I found a motorbike, and set off to visit Auroville.
Auroville is an international community (80 nations are represented), who are almost completely self sufficient. The farms and estates are quite spread out, so it was difficult to engage with anyone there, or get a real feel for the place - but it was a gorgeous ride through the swaying palms and desert.
On the way back, we looked for a nice beach to swim - but sadly the east side beaches are not a patch on west side!

THe next day, sometime afar lunch I got a perturbing text from a friends back in Sivananda....
Apparently an 8.7 earthquake had hit Indonesia, and a series of quakes and all coast lines facing the Indian Ocean were on high alert - with Chennai / Pondi being a particular worry.
Fear mildy set in, and Ana hit the panic button!

First we went to the travel agent next to the hotel, to look at trains or buses out of the danger area. The agent merely laughed and said "the wave will be here at 4:30, what can you do? hehehe". His assistants also found our panic amusing.
We decided to use our bike to reach safer and higher ground,
Also staying at our hotel, was a young German fella. Since we only had a small scooter, I told him to quickly go and hire one and he could follow us.
He returned in less than a minute, saying they would not give him a bike without a licence (my Australian drivers licence sufficed).
After quick assessment, I said he could ride with us.

So, the 3 of us squashed on to the little scooter armed only with essentials (money, passports, change of undies), and I drove us through Pondi, and out on to the freeway heading north west.
Initially the extra weight made it difficult to navigate the bike.
Dear Ana, in a mild panic would gently gesture - "we can go just a bit faster right?"
I had to reply calmly - "no, if we need to break suddenly, this is the top speed with the extra weight, it's going to be OK!"

Along the way we stopped and asked locals what they thought… "Pondi dangerous… veeery much danger there, you must go"… oh sh*t… we drove roughly 50kms inland before reaching a jam packed town (we didn;t find out exactly which one) where locals looked at us and smiled cheered, like the circus had come to town.It was pretty funny.

We stopped for fuel, and to assess the situation online via my Kindle.

It seems by then, India had reduced the alert, and there was no danger.
I took some time to prepare myself for the drive home, and drove us to Pondicherry - eventually safe and sound.
Some nice pho at a local Vietnamese restaurant calmed our nerves and renewed our strength. An eventful day indeed!

Traditional Dress

At this stage of the trip, I am starting to feel Indian. I can my English to the local dialects, use local mannerisms, have perfected the head waggle etc.
It is time to dress as Indians do, especially South India.
Ana had bought a gorgeous sari to wear, I decided to be a real South Indian and buy a mundu.
These are wraps worn around the waste, kind of like a sarong, and are particularly "cooling" in the hot weather.
We found a gentlemen's clothing shop, and I found MY mundu after trying on a few.

Brazilian and Australian South Indians:

We went to the market in "traditional dress", and for the most part folks delighted in seeing goras dressed as locals.
I was hoping to go unnoticed, this would really prove my becoming Indian - I pass for Indian most of the time, but somehow they knew :-)

Friendly flower seller at the market:

Bye Pond

Pondi is a nice, busy and vibrant place to stop.

Bustling Pondi:

Commuting (on bicycle or motorbike) is a little more chaotic than usual. The people are nice, the food is great - but don't come here for the coast.


One of the greatest memories of Pondi is of the wonderful old man who works at Kailash. He is an impassioned speaker of TAMenglish. English, with Tamil grammar.
He speaks this way with such confidence, that he is sure of being grammatically correct and that he should be understood.
Though we clearly did understand each word he spoke, the message was a complex and indecipherable jumble.

He us in stitches as he tried to give us directions on many occasions:
"2 you are going left side, then straight going, cutting 1,2,3,4 then coming right side going, church passing then left side going, and straight stopping… OK?! Are you listening?"

In the morning he would say:
"late last night 2 coming back 1 o'clock going? drinks are having on the roof, till what time? Nice German girls going, 2am I hear walking for bed ahah!"

George Lucas based all of his star wars races and characters on different peoples of our earth - Yoda was surely based on the old wise Indian men of Tamil Nadu.

You can see all of my photos from Pondi and surrounds here

Until next time... om shanti!

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:20 Archived in India Tagged pondicherry scooter auroville tamil_nadu mundu earthquake_india indian_traffic Comments (1)

India: Sivananda Yoga Ashram

My joyous experience of learning and understanding Yoga and Hindu Culture at the gorgeous, peaceful Sivananda Ashram...... Hare Krishna, hare Kirshna, Kirshna Krishna, hare hare!

sunny 32 °C
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Sivananda Ashram

Jaya Ganesha, jaya Ganesha, jaya Ganesha pahimam
Shree Ganesha, shree Ganesha, shree Ganesha rakshamam!

Journey from Varkala

My friend Ana also decided to try an ashram experience and joined me on the train bound for Trivandrum, Kerala's capital.
Trivandrum is super busy, and not really a place to stop to look around.
We caught a connecting bus bound for Neyar Dam and then an auto rickshaw to the ashram.

What is Sivananda?

Sivananda is a Hindu yoga ashram founded by late guru, Swami Sivananda Saraswati.
The available programs teach the 5 points of yoga in equal measure, with Hindu philosophies and culture.
Foreigners and Indians alike were here to study, learn and experience - mostly for the 1 month teacher training program.
I was here for the shorter 'Yoga Vacation' program.


Yoga is a sanscrit word meaning Unity… unity of the 5 points.
Unfortunately 'yoga' has been misinterpreted in the west, focusing on only one of the 5 points - the asanas (positions) / exercise.

To embrace yoga one must adopt all 5 points (each of which are taught with almost equal fervour within the program)

  • Proper breathing
  • Proper relaxation
  • Proper nutrition
  • Proper meditation
  • Proper exercise (asanas)

One follows the other - if you practice asanas, but don't take care with nutrition or breathing, the benefits will not be realised.
If your mind is not at peace, in a state of attachment or craving, then the focus is lost and full benefits will not be realised.
Be calm, light, aware, focused, content… embrace yoga, and the rest will follow... for me it did!

Daily life at the ashram

  • 5:45am The bell rings for everyone to get up!
  • 6am Satsang

This is in the main grandiose hall, where massive paintings of each of the Hindu deities adorn the walls.
Everyone must attend Satsung!
I found it an amazingly joyous and uplifting way to start the day.
We begin with a silent group meditation for 30 minutes, and then chant the universal sound of Ohm
As nearly 300 participants chant "Ohm" together, the enormous sound reverberates through the sound enhancing hall - it is big and powerful.
A universal sound of creation.

Then musical chanting for roughly 45 minutes - almost always in praise of deities - Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva, Ganesh, Rama, Hanuman, etc.
Interestingly, some of the chants acknowledge deities of other religions - Hare Jesus, Hare Buddha, Hare Mohammed….
After chanting, everyone is uplifted and ready for the day ahead.

There are plenty of jambes, chimes, bells, tambourines around for people to pick up and tap, bash, plus a melodeon As the chants were all in sanscrit it was difficult to understand what we were singing, but after a few days we got to understand who each deity is, and what the praise words mean.

On Sundays, we started instead with a silent walk down to gorgeous Neyar Dam - reaching it just in time for sunrise, and then chanting together in the sun - just beautiful.


  • 7:30am - Tea

We have a choice of masala chai (spiced milk tea), or ginger tea in the morning.

  • 8am Asana class

In asana class we gradually learn each of the 12 a,sanas (yoga positions/transitions) combined with the science and benefits behind them.
There are of 8000 documented asanas.
Sivananda picked only 12 of the most beneficial asanas as part of the course.
The teachers were very patient, though made sure everyone got the transition and held the positions in the proper manner.
After each asana we lie down to reeeeeeelaaaax, before embarking on the next, allowing our bodies and minds to refresh, so that the next asana brings the full benefits to body and mind.
By the end of each class I was ready to fall into deep relaxing sleep!

  • 10am Brunch

Brunch is usually dosa, and can be nice - with some rice, yogurt, dahl or vegetable based curry and a super food (like shredded beetroot).
At all meals, we sit on the floor, cross legged and observe silence. No utensils are used for eating and you must only eat with your right hand.
I initially found this very difficult, but once you get comfortable seated in such position, and eating sloppy stuff with your hands (pick little bits at a time between thumb and middle finger), you are eating traditionally and mindful only of the nutrition filling your body,
Having only 2 small meals a day, I was still never hungry at the ashram, and was always "full of beans".

A great deal of thought, research and preparation goes into the food here - to maximise supply of proteins, carbohydrate and vitamins.
You will either love or hate the food ;-)

  • Karma Yoga

Karma yoga can be described as selfless service. Everyone attending the ashram must contribute at least some of their day to helping others. I opted to help out with serving tea - which really only took 5 minutes of each afternoon.

  • 12:30 Coaching

Additional coaching of the asanas is available at this time where you can have a 1 on 1 with the teachers to perfect, or go further with the asanas.

  • 1:30 More tea!
  • 2:30 Lecture

The first 2 lectures were on Hindu culture and the significance of yoga within it; and conducted by a retired senior army official.
At 73 years of age, he looked more like a fit 50, and gave the group an entertaining, but concise view of what it is to be a Hindu and leading a healthy life.
The remainder of the lectures focused on the 5 points of yoga and how to incorporate them into every day life.
The lectures were largely practical, looking at the biology of the breath, maximising oxygen absorption, providing nutrients to the body, the effect of toxins, maintaining clarity and peace of the mind, minimising attachment, living cleanly; plus maintaining a balance between the yogi's life and your material world.

  • 3:30pm Arvo asana class
  • 6pm

Dinner - same formalities as breakfast. The food was a bit more dinner like - with a bread or rice, hearty veg curry, some shredded salad and (occasionally) something nice like a pineapple slice.

  • 8pm

Evening Satsung. Same format as the morning Satsung, however on Saturday nights there is an open mic style talent show - some folks came out with really great acts - singing, dancing, crowd involvement etc.
Also a local dance troupe came in to perform a traditional Hindu dance depicting one of the stories from the Vedas - involving Shiva tricking a nasty king, and having him killed by a half tiger half man beast.


The Hindu Vedas can particularly violent and detailed stories, and are very influential in India - the deities are very interesting characters to me - beautiful, colourful, powerful, emotional, and festive - much like their loyal devotees.

This kind of devotion, however, to such poetic verses prompted a memorable, if not controversial conversation in the men's dorm.....
What will people buy into in 3000 years time? Surely something new and (mis)interpreted from today's mythology....

....All hail the great Batman - the courageous and selfless warrior from the ancient city of Gotham, who despite great wealth, forfeited his safety and lavish life to rid the world of evil; foiling the evil totalitarian aspirations of the Joker.
Chant in praise of Batman, Robyn... perhaps even Alfred.
Hare Batman Hare Batman, Batman Batman, Hare Hare!
Though, surely modern the world of Gotham is very tame and meek compared to the Vedas!

The Ashram Grounds and Lodgings

Sivananda is a beautiful, comfortable, serene, well managed, large and well kept place, I could have easily spent a month here to to teacher training if time permitted!


The dorms were clean and relatively comfortable. Good places to socialise. There were private rooms available for a fairly hefty cost, though I didn't get to see them.
An ayurvedic treatment centre, boutique (selling yoga mats, etc) is also there, plus a "Health Hut' if you fancy a sneaky fruit salad between meals.

All in All....

All in all Sivananda was a really positive experience. I left lighter in body and mind, informed about looking after myself and more spiritually aware.
I learnt a lot about breathing, nutrient absorption, looking after my mind and body, Hindu mythology and alternate thinking. I made some great friends both Indian and foreign. One of those life enriching experiences!

Hare Krishna, hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, hare hare....
Om Shanti, shanti, shanti

You can see all of my photos from beautiful Sivananda here.

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:38 Archived in India Tagged yoga sivananda ashrams_india Comments (1)

India: Varkala

Brezzy clifftop town scattered with lovely restaurants, yoga schools; and a chilled vibe where days can easily flow into weeks.

sunny 34 °C
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I managed to get a luxurious 2AC seat from Kochin to Varkala.
The view from the train was truly spectacular as we passed through the troipical lush backwater areas.
South India is truly magnificent, in a very different way to the bustling north.

Varkala is all new age, Tibetan shops, yoga classes, wifi, good coffee and an ultra relaxed vibe.
The "town" sits atop a cliff with one of the most spectacular views I have experienced.

The beach, below the cliff is gorgeous and unspoilt.
On my first hazy day, I overheard a self styled European "guru" advising his young disciple on how to lure babes ...hehe.

I met with compadres Ana Britt and Hezi at the Rock n Roll Cafe:

It was a week of chillin in the sun, trip planning, and enjoying good food and company.
On my last night there was a beach party - not exactly packed, but a nice vibe with boogeying by the beachside fire by the select few.

Varkala, doesn't exactly typify India, but it is one of it's most beautiful, relaxed and quality spots.
A lovely break before some focus time at Sivananda Ashram....

You can view all of my photos from Varkala here

Om Shanti

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:48 Archived in India Tagged varkala india_beaches Comments (1)

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