A Travellerspoint blog

India

Adieu India, thankyou!

An account of leaving; and an ode to India!

all seasons in one day 33 °C

Goodbye India, Farewell Old Friend

I rose early in the lovely Zik-Zik guesthouse, showered and rechecked all my gear.
Once you leave India, thats it -the earliest you can return is in 2 months time.
This isn't the last time I will leave India, I'm already thinking of my next trip… the many places people gushed about, that I missed.

There was a knock at my door at 5:00am, my driver was right on time.
His smiling face was the quintessential Indian trademark…
"Hello sir, are you all set for going?"
Yes and no.
I instinctively waggled my head to say yes and smiled.

On the way to Leh airport my driver told me about his excitement for the Dalai Lama's impending speech at the Leh temple.
He asked where I had been in India… I recounted the states that I passed through:

Delhi, Maharastra, Karnataka, Goa, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, West Bengal, Sikkim, Bihar, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir

"Oh, wonderful, so much to see!" He exclaimed
Yeah, it has been amazing.

If you let it, give a little, learn to adapt… and embrace your surroundings India will open it's heart to you.
It is by no means a perfect place.
There is abject poverty, litter, a (albeit slowly dissipating) caste system, corruption, occasional misogyny, etc..... and everything is OLD - from the trains to the ye olde rifles that the military officers carry in the train stations.
However as a traveller, these things do become are mere observations in the grand scheme of things.

Learn the head waggle, smile in the face of difficulties, join in on some chanting, sing without warning if you feel like it…
when the bus inevitably breaks down, start a conversation with the old man next to you - he will have very interesting stories to tell, guaranteed.

We approached the army barricades at Leh airport - with the smiling soldiers shaking hands to greet the new blessed day; the enormous snow capped Himalays loomed overhead… encasing Leh like a big mountainous smile.

As we launched into the air, the view of the mountains were astounding.
The plane flew THROUGH the valleys rather than above… a gorgeous and wonderful experience.
Through the magical flight, I recounted the past 6 months…

  • the glorious beaches,
  • the wondrous, enormous mountains and exciting trekking…..
  • the confounding train systems…… TATKAL!!!!
  • topsy turvy logic!!
  • amazing ashrams and learning the ancient path of unity (yoga);
  • the wonderful dhamma (working patiently, persistently, ardently, diligently)
  • the huge varieties of religion and devotion practiced so openly and passionately;
  • the delicious food
  • the ancient wonders
  • the sheer generosity and selflessness , (including for neighbouring countries),
  • the amazingly intricate music (thanks to my patient tabla teacher);
  • the friendly yet firm haggling
  • the many, many adventures
  • ….. and all the wonderful friendships made along the way

Aside from guidebooks, reading Shantaram is probably the best preparation for visiting India. Within a complex and riveting story, it accurately describes the culture, national psyche, train systems and even the administrative mundane to the tea.
You may wonder:
"is this for real?" ......or....... "how can a country like India inspire such prose and passion?"
Believe me...... it is, and it can.
I understand Linbaba, I really do!

I slowly meandered through Delhi's wonderfully modern and spacious international airport (just one example of India's rise), towards the transit counter.
The customs officer checked my Visa and looked inquisitively as if to ask what I had been doing.
He may be unaware of the myriad of wonders at his doorstep.
Living and working in India indeed seems to be a struggle - to look beyond your daily tasks, family, even town is a luxury that many cannot afford.
He stamped me out, I didn't have to say anything.

Farewell India…

Thanks for the most amazing 6 months of my humble life. You are a truly stoic, resilient, insightful, diverse and and welcoming nation. Your awe inspiring terrain - from the wondrous Himalayas to magnificent beaches and dazzling cities; your overt and musical spirituality, work ethic and perpetually smiling faces will all stay with me, from this life into the next.... and beyond.

It has been a blessing to make so many new friends - locals and travellers alike, to share in this great experience.

The great teachings of Osho, Sivananda, Goenka, etc make this world a better place to participate and relish...... Jaya Ganesha, om namah Shivaya, hare Rama, hare Krishna..... Om mani padme om! Shanti, shanti shanti...

The journey isn't over yet.
I have Laos, Europe and Nepal to go. Stay tuned.

liftyrskinnyfists

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:01 Archived in India Tagged india leh india_advice india_summary Comments (2)

India: Ladakh

Click here for a tale of trekking, cycling, socialising and marvelling through the remote, otherworldly and harmonious cultural and ethnic crossroads of Tibet, Nepal and India, sitting high towards the heavens.......or simply, heaven itself!

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Ladakh

The wondrous region of Ladakh comprises large eastern section of the state Jammu and Kashmir, bordering the Himalayas.
It is a predominantly Buddhist society, with an even mix of smiling Tibetan, Nepali and Indian faces, thriving in a harmonious community they call their own, with a unique language and set of traditions.
His Holines the Dalai Lama was in town when I was there to give a set of discourses at the Leh Temple.

This welcoming community coupled with the staggering, jaw dropping Himalayan landscape (and adventure sports on offer) makes this one of the best places in the world to travel.

This is my last stop in India and I will be leaving (literally and figuratively) on a high note.

Ladakh is by far my favourite place in India, and perhaps the world, for so many reasons.
I hope this entry helps explain why...

om mani padme hum

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Bumpy 17hrs to Leh

I took the bumpy 17 hour ride on share bus along the The Manali-Leh highway. A largely unsealed dirt track; sometimes no track at all - where drivers just pick a path through the open plains flanked by the huge Himalayan mountains.

This is a magical journey through the barren, stone and dirt mountain ranges at 4-5000 metres - through the clouds and a constant view of enormous Mars like contoured hills.

There are no towns en route, just small tented stops for chai / supplies (they also offer beds for travellers who get stuck).

Up here there is space, snow capped mountains, clear views, clear air, roaming nomads, ongoing construction on the highway (those guys do it really tough) and an amazing atmosphere of just...... wow

The views made the uncomfortable journey all worthwhile.

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All roads lead to Leh (new and old friends)

As the guidebooks say, Leh is very traveller friendly - everything you need is here - nice guesthouses, plenty of restaruants serving great cheap food, social atmosphere, and an abundance of travel agents offering adventure tours, etc etc.
I bumped into so many folks I met in different places over the past 6 months - it seems like all roads lead to Leh.

Lodgings

After arriving from the mega bumpy journey, I headed straight for Saser Guesthouse as it was the top pick in the Lonely Planet.
It is indeed a nice place, but not the best value…. Rp500 for a room with run down bathroom, grubby linen (the silk liner came in hander), and hot water rarely on.

Later in my stay I went to Zik-Zik with my trekking buddies. This is THE best place to stay (out of the few guesthouses I checked out).
The family who run it are super friendly and everything is comfy, clean and new - including gleaming western bathroom, thick mattresses and wifi… Rp600

Leh

I caught up with my buddy, Ryan from Sivananda / Andamans / Kolkata / McLeod and we explored the town.
There are vantage points everywhere to get a great view of the town, with the enormous mountains encasing it... cradling it.

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Happy faces everywhere, speaking Ladakhi (Julee!), some in traditional dress, others in western clothes.

There is a shanti, yet vibrant kind of buzz here.

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In the evening we went to a restaurant that I'm best not to name, and sat by the fire with other travellers from Egypt, South Africa and Israel.
The proprietor was planning a secret party out in the wilderness (locals, rightly don't want parties ruining the shanties of Leh) and really talked it up.
Rp500 to join party out in the Himalayan wilderness - sunshine, BBQ, music, plenty of up for it travellers... what more could you want.
We put our names down....

Party In the Himalayas

Along with 60 or so other party goers we arrived at the restaurant in the morning, in time for our secret buse, taking us to the mystery location.
The party was great - very social and international.... Germany, Canada, France, Norway Israel, USA, and fellow Aussies, all doing full enjoy
Great food, and company and nobody was shy to bust a move. The surrounding scenery actually made the experience a little surreal - in a good way!

It was a good move to keep the party away from Leh.
Though I had a great time, I think this kind of thing has ruined other parts of India.

Pangong Tso

I got a nice surprise after the party…. a trekking pal from Sikkim, Natalie messaged me and was also in town. She was organising a trip to Pangong Tso with a big group and invited me to join.

We were a small UN representing Australia, USA, Israel, Chile, Belgium and Holland.
It was indeed a very bumpy but picturesque ride through the enormous valleys to Pangong Tso.
On the way we stopped at the world's 3rd highest pass for some tea.

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Pangong Tso (lake) is an enormous lake sitting at around 4000 metres, and sits within both India and China.
Words really can't describe it…. please have a look through my pictures (link below) to see.

Morning view:
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We roamed the area during the late afternoon and enjoyed a nice dinner in one of the cafe tents on the bank. We were so far from anywhere, the dark sky was awash with bright stars.

In the morning, our Chilean representative, Connie led a magnificent Kundalini yoga, mediation and chanting session on the banks; a very powerful experience, heightened by our truly amazing surrounds as we looked out to the enormous blue lake with multicoloured grey, brown and red mountains in the background.

Late afternoon view:
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On the way back we stopped at several active Buddhist monasteries, built into the mountains, and some other gorgeous settlements nestled into the valleys.

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This was definitely a major highlight of my Indian experience.

Cycle down Khardung La (the highest pass in the world!!!)

Khardung La is the highest vehicle pass on earth. It reaches over 6000 metres!

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What else to do but get some mountain bikes and cycle down it.
The road to the top stretches 34 mms from Leh.

I joined my group via one of the agents (just down from World Cafe), and we took a 4WD, carrying our suspension, super tough bikes to the very top of the mountain!

The journey up was quite exciting - only one small lane at the edge of the mountain - and trucks and cars trying to pass in both directions - it is amazing, how close the vehicles get both to each other and the cliff edge!

When we got to the top we enjoyed some tea at the world's highest cafe, then set off down.

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It was a bumpy ride down the unsealed road. Plenty of opportunities for some jumps and passes through small rivers.
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As road smoothed out towards the bottom (and eventually became sealed) we got some serious pace.
It was a fantastic ride, and the astounding view really forced me to pinch myself…. surely it doesn't get better then this.
The Himalayas (literally and figuratively) rock!

Stok Trek

You can do any kind of trek in Ladakh - from overnight home stay strolls to full on month long expeditions with sherpers and ponies carrying tents and supplies, requiring ice picks, abseiling gear and tons of stamina.
I felt a little trekked out from the past couple of months of ramblin' and the high altitude living.
The English lads I met on the biking trip were keen for an overnight home stay trek to Stok and invited me to join.
It is always cheaper to trek in bigger groups… I tried to rouse some of the party goers from the previous week but they were a bit withered. All roads lead to Leh, and many end their Indian journey here….

So, the three of us joined our guide early in the morn' and set off to the Ladakhi montain ranges just outside of Leh.
This is gorgeous scenery - barren, but enormous, with vibrant contrasting colours, interesting wildlife (we saw a lot of cheeky marmmots, wild mules, yaks, etc).
The first day was an easy warm up - 3 hours walking along the flowing river up to our home stay at the base of the Stok ranges.

Our Ladakhi hosts served us a delicious veg curry and dahl for dinner. Our room had clear views of the valleys, and the surrounding farms.
So peaceful, so remote… if God exists he smiles so proudly and warmly over Ladakh.

Day 2 was a tough one. We slowly ascended to the peak, up the steep stony path, with jagged mountains surrounding us - it kinda felt like Lord of The Rings… we were leading up to something.

When we reached the peak, a sense of achievement and wonder emerged in the group. The views were worth the climb. Only pictures can describe.
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We met other trekkers from Spain, France and Austria at the top, and a convoy of locals herding ponies carrying their village supplies came past.
Julley! (Ladakhi for hello, thank you, goodbye, etc, etc)

The descent was great fun, and of course the views were stunning.

At one point the gradient was too steep for walking, and since it was just dry dirt and hardly any rocks our guide led us to skate/ski down on our shoes.
I stood side on, recalled my Noosa surfing lessons (crouch, one arm bent sideways, the other pointing forward with fist clenched). We got up some nice pace and descended several hundred meters in a few minutes!

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The remainder was a nice stroll into Stok.

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Goodbye Ladakh

This region is up there with my favourite places in the world, and a great way to end my time in India.

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I leave here; sated, fulfilled, amazed, calm, inspired, full of wonder, with great memories and wonderful new friendships.
Most of all, I feel so blessed and thankful to be able to roam and experience this amazing, intriguing, puzzling, ancient, inquisitive, staggeringly diverse country, and be so welcomed everywhere.

A farewell letter to my gracious host to follow…..

Om shanti friends…..

Keep smiling, loving, rejoicing, living…..

lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven

Posted by SkinnyFists 03:56 Archived in India Tagged ladakh lah trekking_india pangong_tso khardung_la parties_india Comments (0)

India: Kullu and Parvati Valleys (Himachal Pradesh)

Here is my tale of high altitude trekking, high altitude (and intriguing) communities and amazingly warm hospitality, in breathtaking shanti surrounds...

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The wonderful valleys and mountains of HP

Wooziness from McLeod to Vashisht

McLeod to Manali was a pretty horrid journey; a true test :-)

We set off from around 8:30pm in the rusty old bus, swerving down the mountains at a pace that only Indian drivers can justify (and whilst smoking a chillum at the same time)... bound for Manali.
At around 10:30pm there was a loud BUMP and the bus stopped.
The driver got out, inspected the damage, came back in and sat down.... but said nothing to the passengers.
We sat waiting patiently waiting for an explanation or some kind of action.
It was pouring rain.
Eventually one of the Indian passengers made a call, and found that a public bus was departing for Manali, from a few minutes walk down the road.
Myself and about other passengers grabbed our bags and trudged to the public bus.

When we got there it was already full, but the conductor let us stand in the aisle. This is what I love about India, there is always room and people are happy to accomadate.

A swervy, sweaty, misty, smelly 4 hour journey to Manali ensued. I could sense that some of my Russian compadres were on the verge of technicolour yawns. Though we made it without incident.

Upon arrival I made a sharp exit to Vashisht via rickshaw.

Vasisht Vs Old Manali

Most folks I met who had been up here said Vashist is better than Old Manali. I beg to differ.
Old Manali is better equipped, has nicer guest houses and more atmosphere.
I recommend Geeta, opposite the English Bakery - where I am now, on a second pass through Manali, waiting for bus to Leh.

I didn't like Vashist. It was full conceited, antisocial western stoners!
If you want to smoke charras with a bunch of fascist hippies then go for it.
Yes, fascists they wear their dreads and faux Indian gear as uniform just as their corporate aggressors wear ties and fancy cufflinks..... When I had dreads hippies couldn't wait to chat... I see now how they grunt and scoff at folks who don't wear the uniform ;-)

I couldn't wait to leave Vashist and rejoin India!

Manali

Manali is a nice bustling town. There isn't much in terms of attractions or traveller friendly accomadation, but it is friendly and vibrant. There was an enormous influx of Punjabi tourists when I was there.

Manali
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Nagggar and Kullu Valley

I decided to venture down further down into Kullu Valley for trekking and shanti.
Some chums back in McLeod recommended starting in Naggar and staying at Pappu and Meera's guesthouse - two very good pieces of advice!

Pappu and Meera are amazing hosts - very gracious, serve amazing food and nothing is too much trouble. Their house sits high up the mountain of Naggar with amazing views wherever you look.
I had a great room with bathroom and balcony for Rp400 which is a super deal.
Meera's pranthas are delicious!

Naggar Town
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View over Naggar (from my balcony!)
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There, I met Jan - a long term stayer from Germany. He is writing a book about his experiences of living in India on and off for the past 20 years. His observations and insights were very interesting.
He get to know everyone in town, and introduced me to his card playing friends who could have easily been Khaderbai and his goons in Shantaram.
Naggar is a very friendly, jovial, gorgeous and shanti place....

Trek to Malana

I organised a trek through Pappu: 32kms from Naggar to Malana via Chandrakhani pass.
This is a very tough journey - with steep inclines and very rocky terrain. It gets more and more spectracular as you go further up though - up through the clouds!
There are high altitude farms and communities here.

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Amazing views on the way
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Being at the top of Chandrakhani Pass, among the clouds with wild horses running around reminded me of the dream sequence in Blade Runner
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On the way down to Malana we hit some trouble. It started raining heavily and this is the rockiest part of the journey. With low visibility it was difficult to tell how far we had to go in the dwindling daylight.
Luckily we slowly but surely made it to Malana before dusk

Tragic Malana

Malana is famous for charras (hashish), and this seems to be the primary industry of the village.
Cannabis plants grow absolutely everywhere!
Education, though offered is hardly taken up, with kids seemingly just playing, throwing rubbish at each other or filling their faces with sweets and crisps.
Most families make their living by rolling cannabis plants to extract the charras, and make a small fortune in the process.
Children are taught to roll charras at an early age, and I was told that during peak charras harvest (2 months) of the year, even less kids are in school because the family requires them to work in the family business.

Malana is probably the filthiest town I have seen in India.
People hardly wash, and the entire ground of the village is littered with candy and empty crisp packets.

Most families in Malana are very wealthy by Indian standards (we saw young children with Rp100 notes in their hands), yet their clothes are old, filthy and torn; plus their homes are falling down and unkept.

As we ate breakfast on the roof of my guesthouse (run by outsiders), I watched kids climbing into the town's water tank to swim, with their shoes and clothes on!
This is also what everyone in Kullu that I would see. It's a tragic but intriguing place to see.

To compound the absurdity, it is forbidden to touch any of the local people or buildings.
People of Malana consider themselves and their buildings holy. This adds a very comical element to the experience.
I could not shake anyone's hand or touch any buildings away from my guesthouse.
To make a purchase you must put your money on the ground or table where the vendor replaces it with the good(s).

Both myself and Amit, my guide (who has taken many many groups here) could not wait to get out of there.

The view of Parvati from Malana is nice though:
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Return to Naggar

On the way back to Naggar, we stopped in Kasol for a while.
This is a more extreme traveller spot - with trance parties, charras; whatever other contraband you like.

India being a largely conservative, caste conscious society do not like this kind of tourism. Locals very rarely participate in Parvati Valley shenanigans. Generally they are actively trying to attract a more genteel kind of tourist (I feel this will take time and better infrastructure though) but they tolerate/facilitate to make good money. Many, many people tell me this.

A friend once said to me - If westerners want to come here and impress Indian people, wear a neat shirt and present yourself properly. Walking in barefeet and smoking charras is not what we want from visitors!

It was great to get back to Naggar and shanti Kullu Valley for some of Meera's lovely home cooking, a chat with the other shanti guests and prepare for the next and final stage....

17 hour bus journey to Leh awaits.

Om shanti friends!

p.s. I took a ton of super snaps, you can see them all here!

Posted by SkinnyFists 08:45 Archived in India Tagged india trekking himachal_pradesh kullu_valley parvati_valley nagger malana Comments (1)

India: Dharamasala / McLeod Ganj

Immersing in the amazing high altitude home of the Dalai Lama and learning from the wonderful Tibetan community; plus yoga, a tabla course, new friends and being in the moment

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McLeod Ganj

McLeod:
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McLeod Ganj is just above Dharamasala in Himachal Pradesh, and is absolutely one of my favourite places, not only in India, but the world.
It has a large Tibetan population and home to the Dalai Lama where he teaches freely and campaigns for Tibet's freedom.
India welcomes any Tibetan who can make the journey over the Himalayas, and most of them come here.
There is a steady stream of international volunteers to help the community.
Aside from the heartening community spirit here, it is a gorgeous high altitude, spacious area with courses offered in literally ANYTHING.
It has good accommodation options and great food!

Pretty much an ideal place for any intrepid traveller to stay awhile.

Journey

It was a 17 hour bus ride from Rishikesh to McLeod. It was pretty cramped and a bit sweaty, but you get used to these journeys after a while in India.... thinking back to Vipassana - staying equanimous, and understanding impermanence... eventually made it :-)

Lodgings

I headed over to Bhagsu (about 2km from central McLeod) with fellow travellers from Switzerland and Ukraine, as it is a bit more traveller friendly and quieter than McLeod - with lots of yoga and more courses available than you can poke a stick at - music, Ayurveda, painting, stitching, didge making, singing / chanting, reiki, jewelley making, wood carving, etc. Yes Bhagsu is one of the many traveller ghettos .... and particulartly popular with young stoners on the move.

Anyway, we found Cloud 9 (next to Hezi's travels). It's a really nice place. Good clean rooms, nice courtyard and cheap. Rp200 (AUD$4) per night for a room with a bathroom. Unbeatable for me so far for the price.
The only problem for me was that it is a party place. So, if you want sleep before 2am, then look elsewhere.
Israeli kids (I call anyone under 25 kids) come to Himachal Pradesh or Goa straight out of intense army training to let loose.
If I was 10 years younger I would have stayed up drumming to their heavy guitars, and showing them the Melbourne shuffle whilst they blast psy-trance.... but I am here for early morning yoga, volunteering, and generally getting some shanti.

After 2 nights of not much sleep - I spoke to the owner, and told him I was leaving because of noise.
He had No noise after 11pm signs around the hotel, but this fellow was too amiable to enforce it.
He pleaded and said he'd speak to the kids - I told him ..."it's not you, it's me"
If kids want to party, the Himachal mountains are a good place for them... they should be able to!

I found a gorgeous room offered by a family, in their home further up towards Dharamkot. Peaceful sleep for the rest of the time.
Bhagsu is awesome. If you want early sleep just go a bit further up the hill :-)

I encountered this group of Hare Krishnas (video):

Gorgeous Surrounds

Himachal Pradesh is one of India's most scenic states. McLeod Ganj sits at about 3800metre elevation with steep sweeping decorated and stunning views wherever you look!
I went on a few nice walks - up to the waterfalls near Bhagsu, and then higher up towards one of the Tibetan monasteries above Dharamkot.

Yoga

Mahi is famous in McLeod Ganj. His yoga classes are fun and informative.
Unlike many yoga courses in India, he takes the spirituality out of it, and replaces his explanation of asanas with science.
He explains the impact of every pose throughout the body, and how all muscles are linked.
For example, when we do toe stretching we are improving the function of our sinuses.
He likes to adopt random names his students too - even if he recalls your name - he will just call out "Olga" or "Simon".

I got a lot out of each class - and they are cheap.... Rp200 each!
Ask anyone in Bhagsu where to find Mahi's class and they will tell you.

Tablas

Rohit Mishra and his wife run a fantastic music school in Bhagsu.
They offer courses in tablas, jembe, flute, guitar, singing, and are both ex teachers of Banaras University in Varanasi.

Tablas are a particularly difficult instrument to learn. Finger placement is essential to getting the correct tone, and usually every beat is a different intone or strike. It's like playing a melodic instrument without keys or strings and continually adding accents.
Rohit is a great teacher. I learned a lot within one week (and a bit of practice between classes).

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Through his affiliations with Banaras University, his able to have instruments made at fairly good prices.
I had a pair of tablas made, as did an Israeli couple who were studying with him for a month.
I found good sets of tablas in the stores for around Rp14000
My order for good wood/live skin drums was Rp8000 through Rohit.

I definitely recommend studying here if you are thinking of learning tablas.
The teaching is solid, and you will learn Indian rudiments very quickly.

Volunteering

There are a huge number NGO's operating to aid the Tibetan community in McLeod Ganj.
They are listed here
I taught conversational classes each day (at 2pm just outside Oasis cafe).
It was a totally amazing, informative and rewarding experience.
People from all aspects of the community turn up to learn - youngsters, monks, nuns, shopkeepers, elderly, etc.

Each day a topic is decided upon, and the facilitator writes up 4 questions based on this topic to discuss in groups (1 teacher to 2 or 3 students).
After an hour of discussion each student must have written a succinct answer for each question, and present at least one of them back to the class.
One day the topic was inspiration
We had to define the term, what it means, discuss books and actions that inspire.

Another day the topic was ego: what is it? do we need it in life? what would the world look like without ego?

In my group I had a young nun, a student, and a shopkeeper. The answers I got were so profound and well thought out to me - but they flowed so very quickly naturally from them, without hesitation.
Tibetan culture is studious and considered. All Tibetans fervently study Buddhist philosophy and the Dalai Lama's books.

My students may have improved their English; correct sentence structure, how to express themselves and find more appropriate words to suit their thoughts, etc.
However, I got so much more.... an insight into the hearts and minds of enlightened people; pragmatic, compassionate (even towards their aggressors), and acknowledgement that utopia still requires an ego.

I saw people who are happy and at ease despite their disposition....happy in the present, but determined and fighting. Studious and hungry to learn and better their lives.

Tibet in Exile

After China invaded Tibet, the Dalai Lama fled to India where he was received with sympathetic arms. He was able to setup headquarters here in McLeod Ganj and continue teaching.

Tibetan refugees are given land, accommodation, assistance, etc and an (albeit tenuous) status of residency.
In McLeod Ganj this community seems to flourish. The Dalai Lama temple is an amazing peaceful place and there are many schools and programs here for Tibetan people.

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I attended two talks from people who fled Tibet to live in exile here.
The first was by a young man who left his family behind forever to escape, and build a life for himself.
He told of the harsh oppression facing Tibetans by China, and the banning of their Buddhist customs and rituals.
Monasteries have been burned to the ground and most statues of Buddha have either been destroyed or sold on the international market.
China has also encouraged / forced mass migration of Chinese people into Tibet, so now Tibetans are a minority in their own country.
Slowly they are being swallowed up and completely repressed.
This fellow started an NGO to help Tibetans in exile make a life for themselves in India - through language teaching programs, upskilling (IT courses), etc... a platform allowing visiting volunteers to help whilst they are here.
His story of escape was inspiring yet harrowing at the same time - he will never see his family or Tibet again, unless China releases it's grip.

China perpetuates programs to get people (especially young) to renounce the Dalai Lama in return for entrance to schools and government aid, etc.

The Dalai Lama named the new Panchen Lama (born in 1989) to become his successor.
In 1995 this boy was kidnapped by China.
China then named a new boy of Chinese origin to be the Panchen Lama.... which in effect means once the Dalai Lama passes, they want their own controlled person to take his place - Tibetans of course would not accept this.

The second talk was from a political prisoner who fled to India after being released from a 5 year term in prison - for simply protesting.
He was part of a peaceful protest in a monastery in 1996. He was continually tortured and told to renounce the Dalai Lama during incarceration. He showed photos of the tools he was tortured with, including having a nail hammered into the point between is finger nail and finger.

After 5 years of continual physical and mental abuse he was released to a very different looking Tibet.
He spoke of China's envelopment of Tibet and how it is disappearing.
He also spoke of the hard journey to India, and trying to make a life for himself without his family.

It is hard for all Tibetan's here... those who flee, have to go forever and almost all will never see their families again. Family is so important in Tibetan culture.

I have spoken to quite a few Indian people this, and asked for their thoughts.
India does not have a social welfare system for Indians, yet Indian people understand that without family to support them, Tibetans should be somewhat looked after when they come to India.

Some Indians are disparaging of the fact that the Dalai Lama remains here in protecion.
They say he should be in Tibet, fighting back and leading his people. Gandhi liberated India peacefully and from within India.
Indians are proud, nationalistic, stoic and unafraid to speak their mind. I have never heard this argument from any western friends.

Regardless, the Dalai Lama is a popular figure internationally. However it seems no nation or organisation is really brave enough to take decisive action for Tibet, and risk business with China.

Tibet deserves to be free... we can only hope..... or maybe do!

On to Manali...

Posted by SkinnyFists 06:09 Archived in India Tagged tibet mcleod_ganj bhagsu volunteering_india learning_tabla_india yoga_india Comments (0)

India: Punjab

Experiencing the super festive changing of guard at Pakistan border, and the magnificent Golden Temple in Amritsar.

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Punjab

To Go or Not?

I had initially decided not to go to Punjab. It is out of the way from my planned path - with two attractions to see, and not much to do.
I'm currently in Dharamasala, enjoying fantastic yoga, tabla lessons, and getting to know Tibetan culture (stay tuned for details in next update...)

I was in Hezi's Tours using the internet, when a voice said from behind....
"Hey, do you want to go to Punjab?"

I didn't. It's far out of the way...
"No, you only need to look at a photo of the Golden Temple online to get Amritsar.... and Changing of The Guard (at Pakistan border)... how great can that be?"

Trip organiser, Chen was trying to get numbers for a day trip to Punjab. Charter a vehicle, leave early morning and come back late at night.

Genius! I decided to join.

Chen managed to round up 9 people for the trip - 7 Israelis, and 2 Aussies.
A great group and good fun..

Changing of the Guard

Every day at around 6pm, there is a changing of the guard for border patrol, on both sides - Pakistan and India.
On either side of the border are large arena type setups - where both nations show national pride and try to outdo each other, by dancing, chanting, singing, etc.

There is capacity for (I'm guessing here) 40,000 people on either side.

When we arrived, we had to queue in a "staging area" where it got really cramped, really fast!
One thing I love about India is that tempers never seem flair - they are always either calm or very happy...
Anyway, we were all so squashed in - rib crushingly so - yet nobody got upset, pushed hard, etc.
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Men and women are queued separately which makes perfect sense in this instance.

Folks running to get a good seat:
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After about 30 minutes we were allowed to pass through to the border side arena.

Foreigners are seated in their own area with very primo views!

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This was the greatest show of national pride I have seen in India.

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Indians outdid Pakistan in every way!

Videos I captured....

Dancing:

National Pride:

Jai Ho!

Chanting for India

Marching to the Border

This was a beautiful celebration!

Golden Temple

Next we went into Amritsar to see the (Sikh) Golden Temple.
This is an intensely spiritual and majestic place.

Punjab is home of the Sikh's - their warrior based culture is steeped in strength, prosperity, work ethic, etc.
You get a sense of these characteristics when you walk into the vast and spectacular marble complex.

The temple itself - (Gold!) sits in the middle of a large man made lake, with other temples surrounding it.
Chen had the great idea to go at night - it is truly gorgeous lit up with darkness behind!

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A ceremony of some kind was taking place at the time we were there.

We had to queue for roughly 45 minutes in the grand entrance, to enter the temple - though the wait was definitely worth it.

View from the queue:
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The interior is also mostly gold, and the music played by the "custodians" (Sikh's do not have any kind of priests).

As we walked through the temple, we were invited to sit and witness proceedings taking place in each of the golden rooms.

I was really drawn to the music. Strong, melodic, rhythmic tabla's, soaring melodies from the Baja (melodeon) and chanting.

It was a magical experience - I would say en par with Taj Mahal at the very least.
A video from youtube:

I'm so glad I joined the group, and of course Chen was right - you can't really get Punjab by looking at photos ;-)

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:48 Archived in India Tagged amritsar punjab change_of_guard india_pakistan_border india_festivities Comments (0)

India: Rishikesh

Chilling, eating, exploring, and reveling in festive ancient spirituality during Indian holiday time

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Rishikesh

Arrived in Haridwar after 20 hours on the train.
It was an uneventful journey. I was knackered from Varanasi and welcomed having a bench in an air conditioned cabin to just sleep and listen to tunes.
From Haridwar it was an hour long cab to Rishikesh.
The driver dropped me off at Jaxman Jhula bridge, and I crossed the mighty Ganga and found the excellent Dev Ganga guesthouse.

It was the also the height of holiday season in India (Laxman Jhula bridge):
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This place is really well maintained, spotless; the rooms have modern/quiet AC units, the beds are comfortable and I had a gorgeous view of the Ganga from the balcony - Rp1200 (AUS$20) per night. A little pricey by Indian standards but worth it.

Rishikesh is the world epicentre for yoga, ashrams and Hindu spirituality.

The Beatles came here (though there is no sign of that in present day Rishikesh - most Indians don't even know who the Beatles were), to explore spirituality, and wrote most of the White album during their stay.
There are many great ashrams here, and most hotels offer yoga drop in classes and longer term programs.

Laxman Jhula
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After such a heavy indoctrintation of becoming unindoctrinated through Vipassana - I felt that living under the guidance and rules of another Guru was going to be a little too much - so I decided not to join an ashram this time and soak in the vibe.

Instead, I walked around the gorgeous forested hills, explored the spiritual Swarg Ashram, wandered through the nice markets and read 2 books whilst enjoying the great food at Pyramid Cafe, Little Buddha, Little Italy, and the many other awesome chilled traveller eateries here.

Satsung time on the Ganga!
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Om Namah Shivaya!
Shanti shanti

Posted by SkinnyFists 05:13 Archived in India Tagged rishikesh hospitals_india Comments (0)

India: Varanasi

Herein lies a tale of extremeties in the oldest continually inhabited city on Earth

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Varanasi

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Arrival

The 4 goras on the Vipassana course, Stu, Drew, Roberto and myself - left the centre free and enlightened at 3:15am, bound for Gaya station.
We had nice comfy 2AC seats bound for Varanasi - a 4 hour journey.
When we hit Varanasi, so did the heat. Even hotter than Bodhgaya - 49 degrees!
We found a Rickshaw driver and headed for the old town.

Ancient City (and ridiculously boiling hot in June)

Two things about staying in Varanasi during summer
a) it's fracking hot........ and because of this....
b) the power always goes out.
So, even if you have air conditioning, chances are power will blow, and you'll have a pretty steamy time trying to sleep.

Varanasi is the oldest continually inhabited city in the world - over 7000 years and counting.
It is also one of the holiest places in India. Many people choose to be cremated on the banks of the Ganges river here, and so many of the ghats are stocked with wood piles, and there is a fairly continual stream of men carrying dead bodies (covered and decorated) on stretchers bound of the banks.
It is a fascinating, at times disconcerting place to visit - but an absolute must if you are visiting India.

The dawn boat ride along the ghats of Varanasi was definitely a trip highlight!
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Varanasi is one of those places that is best told by photos.
You can see them[[https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151026131050590.482077.709845589&type=3&l=6663f42e2b| here.]

Blue Lassi

Another recommendation is Blue Lassi! The best lassis I have ever had, and a great place to hang out and meet others. The Vipassana lads and I spent one whole afternoon there - having 3 lassis.
I had a banana/coconut, then apple/mango, then mixed fruit.
Visitors leave passport (or otherwise) photos on the walls. Mine is there with an email address on the back ;-)

If you get chatting with the proprietors you may be offered the special Bang lassi. These are of the hashish infused kind. I had a horrible experience in Amsterdam years ago, so wasn't game, but there were plenty of other travellers enjoying.

Banaras University and Heat Reprieve

It was bloody hot. On my last day, bud Roberto and I went to Banaras University to look around. It is the third largest Uni in the world!
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We then went to one of the posh hotels just outside if the old town to use their pool.
It cost Rp500 each to use the pool, but this also entitled us to have Rp500 worth of food of our choice delivered to our deck chairs - bonus!!

Varanasi was an extreme experience in so many ways - an awesome experience, and a must for India…
now bound for Rishikesh.

Om Shanti friends!

Posted by SkinnyFists 10:32 Archived in India Tagged varanasi Comments (0)

India: Vipassana Meditation in Bodhgaya

Here is a detailed account of my Vipassana meditation course experience in India and an interpretation of the teaching. It may answer your questions if you are curious or considering doing it...

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Vipassana Meditation

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The Vipassana meditation course (dhamma) is the same course (and duration) that Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha devised and taught to countless thousands across Northern India and the Himalayas almost 26 centuries ago.

This course can be undertaken at Buddhist monasteries in Asia, however few will accept or can facilitate non monks or foreigners.
The alternative is to enrol at one of the many Dhamma centres around the world.

This was my second Vipassana course, and first as an old student. I did my first Vipassana course at the Dhamma centre in far west England, near Wales.

I hope this entry gives you an insight into the rationale and practice of Vipassana, and perhaps even an insight into Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha... his face you see nearly everywhere in Asia!

Background

Dhamma Organisation

Dhamma / Vipassana courses are essentially free. Anyone can do it. Buddha never charged for his teaching or turned anyone away.
SN Goenka (the head teacher and head of the dhamma organisation) was born in Burma and, following his studies at a monastery there "resurrected" Vipassana by teaching small groups in his ancestral India, where it was discovered and devised by Gautama the Buddha so long ago but distorted and lost over time - Burma was the only Buddhist nation to retain Vipassana in its original and pure form.

Goenka's courses grew in popularity across India and subsequently centres were opened throughout Asia plus Europe, the Americas and Australasia.

The world centre for Vipassana is an enormous, wondrous place in Igatpuri near Mumbai.
I chose to do Vipassana again here in Bodhgya, as it was here that Siddhartha Gautama arrived arrived at the answers that motivated his dhamma teachings. The place where he became Buddha (Indian sanskrit for enlightened one)
There remains a special energy here, with every Buddhist nation represented by a temple and monastery.

Prince Siddhartha Gautama The Buddha

Approximately 26 centuries ago, (born Hindu) Prince Siddhartha Gautama saw suffering and ignorance everywhere, despite wealth and affluence around him. At age 35 he embarked on an extended meditation under an enormous Bodhi tree in Bodhgaya to contemplate the mechanics of emotion, happiness, and suffering. His inner search uncovered a path to self liberation from misery.

Enlightenment and Buddha's Teachings

Part of Buddha's revelation was that the source of all suffering lies in either craving or aversion. He also noted that all things, including suffering, the mind and matter are subject to the same law of nature. Everything arises and passes away. Nothing can pass away until it arises. Atomic structures are continually in change - the chair you sit on, your bodily mass, sensations in the body, light etc. All impermanent - comprised of particles that arise and pass away..... arise and pass away.

Further, everything we experience or come into contact with generates sankaras in the body. Sankaras generate sensations of craving or aversion - the mind and body are inextricably linked - the state of the mind reflects the state of the body - there is nothing else - no magical forces, nothing external at play.

Sankaras generate sensations of either craving or aversion in the body. They are all through the body. Even at the subtlest level! We are rarely conscious of them, but nearly always react to them.

These points are essential forethoughts when learning his dhamma... and ultimately Vipassana.
It is a long but amazing journey!

Buddha taught dhamma across northern India and the Himalayas, and worked tirelessly until he passed away at 80 years old; liberating hundreds of thousands of people in the process.
The teaching of dhamma continued to spread through what is now Burma, Thailand and Cambodia.

Some 1500 years after Buddha's passing, Atiśa Dipankara Shrijnan journeyed to Tibet and introduced Buddha's teaching of dhamma there.
As you know it had a very resounding impact!

Buddha had no disciples. He spoke of no God or soul, no baseless rites or rituals. He taught only dhamma and a pragmatic approach to enlightenment and liberation.

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The Course

Facilities

• Each student gets their own residence with bedroom and bathroom
• Old students (who have completed at least 1 10 day course already) in separate area
• Meditation pagoda where each student has own pod to work in
• Men and women are completely separated - living quarters, dining area, meditation hall areas
• It was hot - 48 degrees each day, and though the meditation hall had air conditioning, the residences didn't. A ceiling fan didn't quite cut it for the first few days - eventually you just get used to it and the constant sweat eventually slows.
• There were plenty of water filters around and clay jugs around (I drank about 7 litres per day)
• The open grounds are spacious, though very dry due to the weather. It was too hot to go on walks during the breaks - but so lovely at sunset!

Participants

  • 80% older Indians (very dedicated meditators)
  • 4 monks from the Mahabodhi Society
  • 4 Westerners (myself, travel bud Roberto and Stu and Drew from Brisbane)

Food

  • 2 meals per day
  • Indian food - balanced, ultra nutritious and tasty!
  • Occasional treats like mango lassi
  • Fruit and tea were provided for new students in the afternoon (old students can only have lemon juice)
  • Food is taken in the mess hall
  • Participants sit on the floor at small tables in the traditional Indian manner (proper table and chairs were available for older participants)

Daily Routine

  • 4am - Wake up bell rings
  • 4:30 - Group meditation in the hall
  • 6:30 - Breakfast
  • 7:00 - Rest and wash break
  • 8:00 - Group meditation
  • 9:00 - Guided meditation to progress the practice (sit of determination*)
  • 10:00 - Practice on own
  • 11:00 - Lunch
  • 13:00 - Group meditation
  • 14:30 - Guided meditation to progress the practice (sit of determination*)
  • 15:30 - Solo practice
  • 17:00 - Afternoon tea
  • 18:00 - Group practice
  • 19:00 - Discourse
  • 20:00 - Group mediation
  • 21:00 - Sleep

Course Rules

  • 10 days, meditating (sitting upright without support) for 10 hours of each day.
  • To live as a monk, dissolving the the ego completely. Relying of the servitude and charity of others (i.e. the centres are funded by past donations and volunteers who serve and assist participants). No money is accepted in advance of the course.
  • To observe the precepts required for Vipassana
  • No Intoxicants to distort the body and mind. Absolute clarity is required for the practice
  • No medication (unless approved)
  • No killing or eating meat
  • No speaking. There are many reasons for this. The main being so that you don't compare your experience with other meditators. The focus of Vipassana is to observe sensations on the body - if you discuss with others you will crave and look for particular sensations, as opposed to allowing a natural process of arising to occur. The other reason is to keep the mind focused internally.
  • No sexual activity
  • No reading, music or any other distractions
  • Strong commitment and resolve is required….

Phases of Meditation & Learning Dhamma

There are two distinct phases of the Vipassana course......

Anapana

For the first 4 days, the focus is completely on the breath, nothing else. When we meditate Anapana we focus only on the small area around the entrance to the nostril. Observing respiration, observing the air passing in and out of the nose. This process sharpens the mind, develops the deep concentration required for Vipassana. This is essential preparation for Vipassana.

In the initial stages the mind screams for distraction, jumping from one topic to the next as you try to concentrate on the breath and sit still in position.

Without distraction (TV, music, talking, eating, reading, intoxicants, etc), the subconscious becomes free - it comes to the fore. Your memory becomes sharp and active. This can be initially painful for some, but so ultimately liberating as the law of nature is allowed run its course without suppression.

If you have seen the film Inception - you will remember Leo's character keeps layers of his subconscious locked in basement levels of the mind. The defilements occasionally free themselves causing havoc.
Vipassana unlocks those doors so the defilements can arise. Mother nature takes care of the rest. Nothing can pass away unless it can arise.
If fear emerges (past, present or future), the sensations in the body arise and eventually pass.
If craving emerges - let it, but don't react... arising and passing away.
Buddha taught his students to remain equanimous. Use meditation to allow sankaras to arise in order to pass away.

Buddha also discovered… through meditation, over time you begin to experience of the impermanence of everything - your subatomic self, your thoughts, your emotions - once you let things truly arise without suppression, they pass and fade away to nothingness… the law of nature is the law of nature.....
Through this process you understand the true link of body and mind - at the experiential level

This is merely the beginning… the beginning to the long path of dhamma, the long path to enlightenment - true happiness, fearlessness, anxious-less, to become the observer is to become the ultimate participant. To be truly alive.

Buddha said that an enlightened person remains equanimous in the face of sensations of craving or aversion in the body.

Sitting cross legged and upright for extended periods can be tough. The first 4 days were excruciating on my back and legs. Though as my back slowly strengthened and legs became more flexible and relaxed it became easier to sit and focus…
...... always on the breath, to observe what is happening in the mind and body without reacting - like watching a fiim…

Vipassana

Vipassana is an Indian sanskrit word meaning to see this as they truly are.
This is the second stage of the course and a difficult, yet liberating one.
When you understand Vipassana, you understand why Anapana is such an important precursor.

After completing 4 days of Anapana mediation the mind becomes very sharp, focused and concentrated. 4 days of Anapana is essential preparation for Vipassana.

Vipassana penetrates the deepest level of your physical and mental self to allowing observation of all sankaras in the body.... in order to allow nature to take it's course.
Very difficult at first. Second nature given time.

Now, rather than focus only on respiration and air passing through the nostrils, you very slowly scan your attention throughout the entire body, leaving no part unchecked. You go through this process repeatedly for each 1 hour sitting. It requires optimum focus and concentration.

When you scan the body in deep concentration of Vipassana all of your sankaras become apparent through sensations. You feel both pleasant and unpleasant sensations throughout the body - some gross unpleasant sensations, some very pleasant subtle sensations.

Vipassana is to remain equanimous to the sensations within this deep awareness - understanding the impermanence of all things - the law of nature. Experience the impermanence of the unpleasant sensations. Let them arise and pass away without reacting. Simply observe them as sensations. Do not generate aversion to the unpleasantness or else new sankaras will generate.

As you observe yourself in this manner for 10 hours per day, in deep meditation. the law of nature begins to take effect. The body and mind develops strength. There is an awakening. Sankaras of craving and aversion boil to the surface, and like bubbles they pass away to nothingness.
You also start to see a change in everyone around you. There is no talking, but you can see strength and resolve in their faces.

A Vipassana meditator becomes aware of sensations, not only during meditation but always. This is a conditioning exercise to become always aware of sensations.... and see them as they truly are.

Eventually craving becomes a mere observation, it does not distract you. Fear becomes a mere observation. Anger becomes a mere observation. These things of course never go away, you always experience them. Vipassana practice does not quell or suppress these sensations, you do not become a robot, but you become aware - completely aware, and freedom is in awareness.
Awareness of impermanence, and equanimity in the face of sensations in the body was Buddha's great discovery and the path to enlightenment.

The mind and body are linked as one. To remove the defilements of the mind, to be completely free one must let the sankaras of the body arise and pass away. As the bodily sankaras pass away, the thoughts remain, however they have no power in the body.... This is also what Buddha came to know.

Delving Deeper

Later in the course (for me it was around day 8) you begin to experience your own sub-atomic impermanence. I had tingling sensations throughout the entire body, as my mind caught glimpses of my own subatomic structure arising, passing away, arising passing away.

At this deep level of inner concentration I felt blood passing through my vessels. Activity under the skull became apparent, and I could feel my organs at work. You have complete understanding of the self - the physical and mental self. You feel everything within and have complete control and understanding.

Sit of Determination and Endurance

It is a general rule that participants sit upright, with their legs crossed for the duration of the hourly sittings. It is also a rule, that for 3 of the sittings, participants must not uncross their arms or legs for the entire time.
The reason is that, no matter how much pain arises, you must remain equanimous.
Equanimity is the key to enlightenment throughout the course. If you react to sensations in the body you get no benefit.
If you move, you are reacting to aversion. This is indeed a harsh sensation on the body, as the legs scream to move. You cannot injure yourself in this position - the body likes distractions though - so it wants to move.

An enlightened person can sit still. They sit can happily without moving, eating, shifting, fidgeting, talking, distracting themselves in some way - they are at peace. Sankaras have been allowed to pass. They need no distraction. They are at ease in their body and mind.
This is why you see Buddha sitting happily. This is why Buddhists meditate. They continually cleanse their sankaras. They do not require distraction in a permanent state of awareness.

Sitting cross legged. unmoving and upright for 1 hour straight is hard. I only managed to do this on a number of occasions during the entire course. Strangely enough these were the occasions when I found the deepest level of concentration. neutrality and equanimity. Mostly, I had to recross my legs once or twice each sitting.

Evening Discourses

Every evening there were 1 hour discourses lead by S.N Goenka (now in his mid 80s) - via DVD.
As most of the participants were Indian, the Hindi version was conducted in the main hall and Goenka's English discourse was in a smaller hall for foreigners.

As the course is the same everywhere, there is no need for students to break their silence. Just to listen, learn and understand, and be coached.
Everything I have written here is an interpretation of these discourses.

As Goenka explains Buddha's teaching and rationale in detail, along with many stories of Buddha's time as a teacher, he also acknowledges the challenges that many people face on particular days. This helps! There are universal nods and occasional laughs amongst participants…despite the silence, there is camaraderie.

Goenka stresses that this practice in non sectarian. People in the west make the mistake of thinking of Buddhism as a religion like Christianity. It is not. Buddha's explained that praying to a God, chanting, rites and rituals did nothing for liberating oneself. The individual must look inwardly for this. Buddha made dhamma available to anyone who wanted to learn.

It is a physical and mental practice - not religious or spiritual.

Decline of Buddhism in India

Though Buddha made an enormous impact in his home of India (he was born a Hindu Prince), and whilst Hindus acknowledge his contribution and teaching in Asia, his dhamma folded back into the enormous, ancient Hindu pantheon, and subsequently it was largely distorted and lost.
Hinduism is possibly the oldest strongest standing religious culture on Earth.

And so, true Buddhists of India are now a very small minority, but so very delightful and insightful people.
It was amazing to study with them.

Conclusion

Vipassana meditation practice is one of the greatest lessons I have experienced.
It is perhaps a simple ideal - observing sensations in the body with the understanding of nature's law as a path to enlightenment.

Though when you do a course like this, the rationale behind the (minimum) 10 day stay becomes clear. It took at least 8 days to clear my sankaras, enabling a free flow through the body, and to reach the level of concentration required to practice Vipassana at the deepest level of my body and mind.

We learn that if one distracts themselves from craving and aversion, then the sankaras are suppressed… and they grow. Movies, music, intoxicants, "taking your mind away' does not dissolve your sankaras. These past-times are not discouraged in the life of a Vipassana meditator. There are no rules like that.
However distractions cannot be used to remedy unpleasant sensations in the body. Suppression only compounds misery in both the body and mind.

You are never sad, you experience the sensation of sadness in the body. Nobody says you have to suppress the emotion. nor does anyone magically generate that emotion and place it within you.
Magic happens when you make the distinction of being and merely experiencing the sensation and allowing it to arise and pass away as an observation.

The path to enlightenment is to journey out of all forms of craving and aversion by observing them as they are. Observe sensations, let them arise and pass, equanimously - the law of nature takes care of the rest for you!

Following the course I felt an enormous change in my body and mind. The stored sankaras of craving and aversions did arise. There were many - especially in the first few days. I was also able to recount my entire existence as a by product of isolation. As the cleansing process ensued I felt lighter, more alert, stronger and fearless.

Gautama The Buddha was a great man.
Whenever I see his face I remember to scan for sensations, and think of his great discovery....the art of living.... I can't help but smile.

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Take care. keep smiling :-)

Posted by SkinnyFists 02:57 Archived in India Tagged buddha bodhgaya vipassana meditation_india Comments (4)

India: Bodhgaya

Exploring the temples and monasteries surrounding the Bodhi tree, where Siddartha Gautama became Buddha


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Bodhgaya

Bodhgaya is a lovely and compact city dedicated almost entirely to Buddhism.
It is here where the large Bodhi tree under which the Hindu Prince Siddhartha Gautama sat meditating for (arguably) a period of 6 weeks to attain elightenment and become Buddha (Indian sanskrit for "enlightened one").
The Bodhi tree is still here, along the gorgeous Mahabodhi temple, and park complex to commemorate the great teacher and liberator of Asia.
Each Buddhist nation is represented here by amazingly ornate and active monasteries - Thailand, Burma, Tibet, Japan, China.

I spent 4 days here exploring the monasteries, temples and Mahabodhi complex along with travel buddies from Germany and France.

The only detracting factor was the weather - 47 degrees! Pretty damn hot, and difficult to acclimatise.
However it was worth it. It's a gorgeous and spiritual place with a very nice energy....

I did Vipassana there.... will publish a detailed entry on it soon!

Photos

Bodhgaya is a place best described through photos....
I took heaps! Please enjoy them

here

Posted by SkinnyFists 02:52 Archived in India Tagged buddha bodhi_tree bodhgaya meditation_india Comments (0)

India: A trial of 36 hours (Darjeeling to Bodhgaya)

36 hours of missed connections, heat, filth and queue jostling balanced by nice food en route to the place of Buddha's enlightenment

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Journey to Bodhgaya

Leaving Darjeeeling wasn't as easy as we thought.
My buddy Roberto and I set off from the high end of Darjeeling at 7am bound for the 4WD taxi rank.
We had 4.5 hours to get down to NJP to catch our train to PATNA.
When we arrived, there were plenty of 4WDs, plenty of waiting passengers - but no drivers.
Over an hour passed and everyone started to panic. This was pre-Vipassana, and my fuse was pretty short too.
Eventually, the 7 westerners banded together and used a bit of currency power to charter our own vehicle.
With great pace, we swerved down the enormous mountain and got to NJP - in time for some - but not for my train.

We queued at 5am the previous day to get TATKAL, so the effort felt like a bit of a waste.

More queuing at NJP....
For those who haven't had to buy train tickets at a station yet - orderly queuing is RARE- when it happens it is so sweet, like a treat from above - especially in many parts of the north.

At NJP we waited in the gents queue as guys tried to push their way o the front. At several points it took both of us to use brute force to stand our ground and keep our place.
When we reached the front, hands and voices would pass over our shoulders...

"GET THE FRAK BACK", I would yell.
The response... "but I just want to talk to the attendant"
"Well it's queue, and it's our turn... that's how queues work pal"

We luckily got 3AC seats for a later train. Only a 5 hour wait at the station.

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NJP isn't the kind of place you want to be stranded. We waded the the trash, heat and incoherent touts to find an AC restaurant to chill for a while.

Finally our train came - about 9 hours to Patna.

Patna is one of those places where looks can deceive you. From the outset it looks like a post apocalyptic, crowded shambles. However the people are truly friendly and great food and restaurants can be found.
As we missed our last train, we had to book a new connection to Gaya. This experience contrasted NJP. The queue was orderly, and the attendant spoke the queens english.
We then found a nice AC restaurant and pigged out during the 5 hour layover before the train to 5 hour journey to Gaya.

Bodhgaya is about 15 minutes on auto-rickshaw from Gaya station.

Lodgings

We wizzed into town... and found a great hotel with reliable AC, nice restaurant, etc... Niranjana Hotel.
I can't fault this place at all.... especially after a 36 hour journey of missed connections, extreme heat, fisty cuffs in queues....

Kaderbai in Bodhgaya

One thing we noted, and everyone we met there, was the posse of affluent older fellows that always sat in the foyer or in the restaurant. They all ordered the staff around, but didn't seem to do anything.

It really felt like the mafia... like Kaderbai's minions from Shantaram.
Whenever we sat in the foyer, the guys would always politely move to the restaurant to talk business

It's all good....

Sometimes you have to take these tough journeys to really appreciate the wonderful destinations.
Bodhgaya is one of those..... stay tuned for my next update on the gorgeous and amazing place of enlightenment, Bodhgaya.....

Posted by SkinnyFists 09:54 Archived in India Tagged patna trains_india darjeeling_to_bodhgaya Comments (0)

India: Sikkim

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

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Sikkim

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

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!

Pelling

"Offical" map of Pelling
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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 ;-)

Pemayangtse:
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Scenic hike path
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Rabdentse Palace Ruins:
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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:
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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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Darjeeling

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Journey

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.

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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:
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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!

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

Photos

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)

Arrival

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:
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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:
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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.

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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:
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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:
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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:
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Diving

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:
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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:
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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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Osho

Background

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:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osho_(Bhagwan_Shree_Rajneesh)

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.

Registration

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.

Meditations

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.

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
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Pune

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)

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