A Travellerspoint blog

One week in Spain!

Latin launch and España short time....tale of two cities...Barcelona v Madrid

sunny 30 °C

Barcelona

Barcelona is rightfully famous for wondrous gothic architecture, bustling laneways, an amazing harbour, full on nightlife and much more.

Walk and Discover

I did a lot of walking, as the weather was lovely and it's a fairly flat city.

Plaza de Catalunya

Plaza de Catalunya

Stunning harbour at sunset

Stunning harbour at sunset

La Sagrada Familia

A big draw for me was to see La Sagrada Familia - and it did not disappoint!!

Gaudi's vision thus far is nothing short of spectacular, and it's wonderful to see Barcelona's ongoing commitment to realising it!

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Here's a tip - book the tickets online well in advance. The ticket office isn't always open, and online tickets sell out fast.
There are wifi hotspots for tourists to connect with their own devices and purchase tickets (you need to reserve time slots, which are allocated and limited)
Tickets are scanned via your device at the gate.

I wasted a bit of time walking down there, only to be able to reserve a slot for the following day.

Amazing stained glass window effect

Amazing stained glass window effect

Interior panorama

Interior panorama

Totem representing the loneliness of Christ

Totem representing the loneliness of Christ

Quiet contemplation....

Quiet contemplation....

It's well worth splurging on a ticket to go up one of the towers!
The views are incredible!
View from the Nativity Tower Sagrada Familia

View from the Nativity Tower Sagrada Familia

Another hint is to look our for Antoni Gaudi's tomb within the complex. It isn't sign posted, but serenely surrounded by lit candles

Lodgings

Praktik is a superb Spanish hotel brand and their La Ramblas arm is remarkable, with awesome staff and really incredible rooms!

Reggaeton, Reggaeton, Reggaeton

I went to Boulevard on La Rambla on the Saturday night purely based on recommendations.
This place goes off!!
Both locals and tourists filled the joint to the brim and got their bounce on.
I arrived at 1am and before I knew it - the lights came on and it was 6am... but that's just the beginning...
There were a myriad of after party options for those inclined, but I waved the white flag and retreated home.

Fast Train to Madrid

If you are doing intercity travel within Spain I recommend the RENFE fast train rather than flying.
Total journey time is faster, it's cheaper, more comfortable and you see more!

I booked a tourista plus seat at Barcelona station and was soon on the high speed train bound for Madrid in first class luxury for EUR129.
There was a display in the cabin showing current speed, which hovered around 300km/h... boom!
The journey is markedly smooth with no bumps and there is a lovely countryside view to behold all the way.

Madrid

Madrid, Madrid - how I love thee so much!
Cosmopolitan, unpretentious, raucous, friendly, stylish, with plenty to see and do, awesome parks, etc.

Lodgings

Again stayed at Praktik - the flagship Metropol branch in prime position next to Gran Via Metro.
This is absolutely my favourite city hotel on Earth and my second time here.
...incredibly decorated

...incredibly decorated


View from the roof of Praktik

View from the roof of Praktik


Praktik roof view

Praktik roof view


Praktik panorama

Praktik panorama

  • Hint...look up photos with #Praktik on Instagram and the TripAdvisor reviews.

Dancing

I was itching to get my Salsa on!!
The lady at hotel reception recommended Tropicana, near Plaza Espana.... so I went.

It was great to dust off the proverbial cobwebs, and after talking with their instructors she gave me some proper schooling in Kizomba!
There were also some wonderful performances!!!
Bachata performance at Tropicana

Bachata performance at Tropicana

Language was a barrier, however dance (yet again) proved to be a wonderful way to communicate and engage with others in spite of that.

Friendly and Funky Madrid

I caught up with friends living in Madrid and enjoyed really amazing food and atmosphere at Tuk Tuk restaurant and Lolina Vintage Cafe.
It would have been great to spend more time exploring - it really felt like an exciting and creative metropolis.

Bye Madrid, Adiós España

Madrid is a beautiful city, by foot and to behold from above.
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If I had to choose between the two Spanish titans....Madrid has better and more comprehensive nightlife options, friendlier locals and doesn't feel nearly as touristy... more like a home.
If you're considering a visit to Madrid, don't hesitate any longer!

Posted by SkinnyFists 18:38 Archived in Spain Tagged sagrada_familia barcelona spain madrid fast_trains Comments (0)

Muay Thai in Phuket

relaunchyrskinnyfists... Muay Thai training, plus other adventures in paradise.

sunny 34 °C

Muay Thai Training

I've been studying Muay Thai for a couple of years now, and decided to go back to Phuket where I discovered it first.... and try out some new camps.
It was a brilliant trip, and I gained yet more insights to share here....

Muay Thai sits proudly as the national sport of Thailand.
Ask any Thai who their hero is, the reply will likely be either Buddha or Buakaw (Por Pramuk).

Muay Thai - Culture and Religion

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The national sport of Thailand is closely reflective of the nation's religion, Theravada Buddhism.
Theravada is the oldest and undiluted philosophy and teaching of Siddhartha Gautama, the man who became Buddha.

Other traditions and interpretations of Buddhism emerged later in history, and are quite different:

  • Mahayana (India)
  • Vajrayana (Tibet, Mongolia, Bhutan)
  • Zen (China, Vietnam, Korea and Japan)

Siddharta's premise was that if one can endure physical strain whilst maintaining mental composure, they will enable themselves to eliminate suffering within, resulting in capacity for selfless compassion in our external interactions, plus greater mental clarity.

His own enlightenment was borne out of his own endurance - to sit in lotus, until an answer came (and boy, did it take a while), no matter what occurred in his mind, no matter what his physical being felt. He was a determined fellow, and a true enabler!

During his life as a teacher Buddha encouraged his students...even if your legs feel like they are on fire as you sit in lotus, they will not fall off, they will not break...continue, breath by breath and the results will unfold

Under Muay Thai tutelage, the message is the same - keep kicking as hard as you can, and forget the pain - you're legs are not going to fall off - they are getting stronger - your mind is getting stronger, your heart is getting stronger!

...and it's true. After a two weeks of training, you feel strong, confident, happy, buoyant and resilient.

As foreign tourists, training at camps is a chance meet and engage with Thai people on their terms, and understand a significant part of their culture.
Since discovering the sport three years ago, it has enriched my life in so many ways - you could say it's a passion - but it's more than that!

Here is my review of a few camps in attended in 2012

OK, so the training this time...

Maximum Fitness and Muay Thai

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Stop #1 was Maximum Fitness situated right on Patong Beach!
Patong Beach outside Maxiumum

Patong Beach outside Maxiumum

The training schedule was typical for most camps:

  • 30 minutes skipping
  • 10 minutes shadow boxing (so trainers can assess technique)
  • 1 on 1 training with pads. Muay Thai is all about responding, recovering and devastating quickly, and I really developed that aspect of my fighting here.
  • Sparring: time for students to put training to work.... against each other. Training with pads is one thing, but it doesn’t hold you in stead for the real world or force you to defend properly.

I learned a lot from sparring with the long termers and trainers here!

  • Conditioning. After sparring it’s time for repetition and what sports trainers call - the metabolic finisher.

Each person takes one bag and together, as a group, in unison, and as hard as you can, complete:
- 100 kicks
- 100 knees
- 100 elbows
- 100 punches

  • Abs: A variety of excruciating ab exercises, together as a group all in time.
  • Stretching and warm down.

I loved training here. The only downside is lack of AC in the boxing area.
I'm guessing this is to build discipline and endurance, and remain traditional.
Most gyms are outside in Thailand, but this one was enclosed, and I was getting dangerously close to heat stroke some days.

PBG

PBG ringside

PBG ringside

PBG stands for Patong Boxing Gym, but really it’s way out of town, on the breezy cliffs of Karon.
My PT in Melbourne trains here and warned me that they are one of the tougher camps in Phuket.

This place boasts one of the best views I have seen from a camp - overlooking the stunning Thai coastline from quite an elevation, making it also quite breezy - a nice change.

Head trainer, M Bed assessed my fighting style and ability before putting together my program.

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Most of the conditioning and fitness aspect was left to me, (though we did tons sit ups and weighted punches)….. and we instead focused on technique and maximising power, speed and recovery.
M is the most effective, patient and encouraging trainer you could ask for!

Worked on maintaining defence whilst throwing punches

Worked on maintaining defence whilst throwing punches


M helped improve my kick technique, so that I could fire a succession of hard kicks whilst maintaining balance, defence and momentum

M helped improve my kick technique, so that I could fire a succession of hard kicks whilst maintaining balance, defence and momentum

One of the trainers at PBG fought at Patong Stadium on one of the nights that I was there.

Poland V Krabi

Poland V Krabi


There were also some really impressive match ups, including a ladies fight.

Here is a video taken during one of my pad rounds with M

I definitely had a wonderful experience at PBG, and can’t wait to get back there!

Other details you might find handy below....

Travel to Phuket

It was low season (August) in Thailand so prices were remarkably competitive.
Jet Star offered AUD$700 for business class, one way - Melbourne to Phuket direct. Easy!!
A lovely comfortable flight, great entertainment, awesome food options, very nice comfy chair….well worth the extra dough!!

Lodgings

R Mar

I spent the first week at R Mar Resort, and absolutely recommend!
Lovely staff and great facilities.
R Mar at night

R Mar at night

Though R Mar is close to all of the raucous nightlife, it’s very quiet - tucked away in a side Soi - surrounded by nice restaurants and a couple of bars. The surrounding area had a community feel.

Yorkshire Inn
I moved to the Yorkshire Inn for the second week for a bit of a change.
Yorkshire boasts one of the best gyms in Patong, and offers memberships/guest passes to non hotel guests - I saw many, many locals pumping iron here.

Owned by a Yorkshire couple (who would have guessed?!), it has great hospitality employing staff from Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Philippines.
It bears the hallmarks of British home abroad; modern and classic rock piped around the pool, English breakfasts, comprehensive pie menu(!), etc.
It’s on one of the busiest roads on the island - the extension of Soi Bangla - yet the rooms are nice and quiet.

Nightlife

Phuket is famous for the Bangla area, lined with raucous hostess bars and big heaving nightclubs.
It's easy to get fleeced here. If you're not careful and watch your tab, the hostess bars will leave you considerably poorer…very quickly….. but with a stellar Connect Four game ;-)

I was on a strict regime so didn't go out much.
Though, some local friends took me to Tiger Discotheque, which has very savvily targeted the young, hip...and wealthy Arab market.

The DJ blasted Arabic pop/house music… plus the ubiquitous snare drum heavy Thai pop that you hear EVERYWHERE across the country at night… bupbatabupbub.bubbatabubub.bubbatabubub
On the dancefloor I tried to Shazam many tunes to no avail, and so asked party goers to help identify the songs.
Many came to my aid! I had to add Thai and Arabic keyboards on my phone... and now I have a healthy library of Thai and Arabic pop :-)

Tiger Disco

Tiger Disco

Dental and Medical

Thailand has great dental and medical services.
I was treated in a Thai hospital after a serious accident in Cambodia some years ago, and rated their approach, attention to detail and care as outstanding.

This time I had a bit of dental work done at Sea Smile - highly recommended.
Even after all that tough boxing training, I was still tenuous about the anaesthetic needle... the dental nurse held my hand during administration and during the intense part of a filling - so nice!

Staff photo - I’m still under the fog of anaethsesia.

Staff photo - I’m still under the fog of anaethsesia.

Bye Thailand

For my last night in Phuket, a friend took me to a wonderful seafood restaurant at one of the highest points on the island.

The view was incredible, as was the food!

The view was incredible, as was the food!

...and so sadly, after two amazing weeks I left Phuket, for one quick stop in BKK

Landmark Room

Landmark Room


I've stayed at the Landmark on a few occasions, and they treated me to a free upgrade.

View of BKK from my window

View of BKK from my window

If you're interested in BKK, here is one of my detailed entries about it|http://liftyrskinnyfists.travellerspoint.com/71/

So... feeling a bit fitter and refreshed, after great training and adventures, I bid farewell to Thailand, bound for Europe.

Posted by SkinnyFists 15:24 Archived in Thailand Tagged boxing phuket muay_thai Comments (0)

Laos into Thailand (via Isaan)

From remote haven to tourist...er heaven

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Awoke in the wee hours and quiet serenity, just in time to see the gorgeous sunrise over the Meekong.
Took a share bus from Don Khong to Pakse, and then connected at the terminal for another bus, west bound into Thailand.

The bus stopped at the border for disembarkation and immigration check.
Once we processed through, the bus was waiting for us on the Thai side and we continued down towards Ubon Ratchathani.

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Ubon is curious quiet city; one of the major four of Isaan. It certainly isn't a tourist hub at all, and so feels marvellously un-farang'd.
The streets are quiet, serene, lit up, yet somehow bustling with nice restaurants, and shops and a fantastic night market.

Visitors to Thailand will become quickly aware of the higher proportion of folks working in tourism - hospitality and entertainment are from this region.
Ethnically, Isaan genealogy is closer to Lao, as is the language.
In this humble beholder's view, they're very beautify people.

I stayed at the Sri Isaan hotel at the suggestion of the friendly cab driver who intercepted me at the bus stop.
The hotel was super clean, nice comfortable bed, wonderful amenities and awesomely friendly staff.

In the morning, took the leisurely Air Asia flight down to Phuket.

Upon arriving took a cab straight to 'Bangkok Hospital' to get a sore eye checked out. I assumed it came from swimming in the Meekong....

If you need medical attention in SE Asia, Bangkok Hospitals (locations all over the country) are the best private hospitals I have come across in the world (and this includes Australia!).
I was seen by an eye specialist within about 10 minutes of arriving and registering!

Sadly doc's orders included "no swimming" until the thing had cleared.
After a series of tests it turned out to be a symptom of dehydration...

Coincidentally I had family in town and we call caught up at Bliss Beach Club (http://www.blissbeachclub.com)
Awesome food, vibes and very family friendly.

Phuket is a big diverse island - from the bustling and crazy Patong to the calm and serene Nai Harn.
Here's my entry on Phuket first time 'round

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Next update will be from sunny, mountainous Nepal :-)

Later....

Posted by SkinnyFists 01:15 Archived in Thailand Tagged lao ubon isaan Comments (0)

Laos: Si Phan Don

Magical, amazing, calm, awe inspiring 4000 islands with freshwater dolphins, amazing hospitality in true Laos culture

sunny 35 °C

Si Phan Don

Si Phan Don literally translates to 4000 Islands, and is an unmissable stop in SE Asia. This was a real highlight of my trip!
The islands are scattered around the vast, wide open currents of the Meekong.
The scenery and atmosphere is incredible... almost indescribably.... but I will try :-)
It really is amazing!

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Journey to the Islands

It was a long trip to Si Phan Don...

I took the long bumpy bus from Vang Vieng down to Vientiane and spent the night.
In my limited experience of Vientienne - it is pretty boring. Not much happening, the night market is tiny and it just felt dull.
In the morning I flew down to Pakse (Laos Air is a great, and cheap option for getting around the country).

When I arrived in Pakse I met a guy who offered private taxi to the port for Si Phan Don (approx 3 hour drive) for about US$20.
It was a good option to take!
At the port, he arranged a boat for me to get across to Don Khong

Don Khong

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This island is stunning yet so sleepy, everything seems to move in slow motion.
The people are so amazingly friendly and laid back... if you wanted to write a novel, this would be the place to do it!
The quiet is so calming, with the currents of the Meekong in the background and the occasional boat drifting past.

I stayed at Pon Arena Hotel, one of the more upmarket places, for a bit of a treat!
They gave me a really good rate - 5* service, food and truly spectacular room for a relatively tiny price.
Pon Arena is right on the river, with truly amazing views!
The owner had family in the neighbouring suburb of where I grew up in Melbourne! Small world huh!

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Exploring Si Phan Don

I took a boat tour going to Don Det, one of the busier islands where the majority of backpackers seem to flock, and then on to Don Khon to see the amazing waterfalls.

We then ventured further along the Meekong to some of the smaller islands.
One of which I took a boat ride out to the Cambodian side, for a glimpse of the Irrawaddy dolphins!
A definite trip highlight - we saw a pod of around 6 emerging from the water... really incredible!!!

After some cycling around the rest of the island it was time to venture back to Don Khong.

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As we cruised the hour long journey in the tiny wooden motor boat back, the enormity of the Meekong really became apparent.
Passing the colourful houses and huts, that line the banks, with tourists and locals alike lazing outside in their hammocks, as the sun slowly sets I couldn't help but think... this is heaven on earth!

khàwp ja̖i Laos!

Laos is truly spectacular; stunning, quiet, friendly country to explore, relax, immerse and just take your time.

Peace

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:40 Archived in Laos Tagged irrawaddy_dolphins si_phan_don don_khon don_khong laos_waterfalls meekong_river Comments (0)

Laos: Vang Vieng

Hedonistic jungle party zone and fast flowing currents...

overcast 34 °C

Vang Vieng

Vang Vieng indeed has a notorious reputation; tubing, soft drugs, hard drugs, police corruption, etc.

The focus however should be the scenery.
Someone described it like being in Jurasic Park. It is so easy toimagine Terradactils and Tyranasauraus roaming this land.
VV is a pretty chilled out place and very backpacker friendly.

Note I didn't take any photos in VV, due to constant water immersion and light stupor.

Meekong Mayhem

This is the big attraction here and it is worth the trip if you're in Laos (I heard this whole thing has been shut down since I was there though).
You go to the registration "shed" - sign your life away, grab a tube, jump on the back of a jeep and head to the starting point.

As you let the current take you down the river, staff at each bar throw a tube attached to a rope out to your group, and you pull yourself/your group in to the pier.
Free shot of whiskey upon arrival at every bar.

Directly opposite take-off is 'Q-Bar' - where most people spend all day. The tunes were good, and everyone was dancing.
Every kind of cocktail bucket is available plus laughing gas balloons.
They day went quickly - we only managed to get 3 or 4 bars in over the course of the day.
I met some folks there who were tubing every day for a week....1 day destroyed me

The next day we got some kayaks and did the tubing route… a much more controlled and peaceful way to see VV.

We stopped at just one bar frequented by a super energetic (see: smashed) group of South Koreans.
"Hi, we are from South Korea… not Kim Jong Ill, OK? hahahaha" :-)

After a few rope jumps and backflips from the pier we moved on and cruised the remainder of the magical path.

Nightlife

VV nightlife is pretty crazy.
It's no Ko Phangan, but there are late night outdoor discos jammed with sunburnt backpackers off their faces having consumed as much whatever as they possibly could, and blasting house tunes.
We found a more subdued bar up the road playing mashups, with a pool table, darts board and more level headed punters... a much better option for me.

Thanks VV, but I won't be back...

I left Vang Vieng with mixed feelings.
It is a beautiful place, but feels tarnished.

The tubing, and loud parties completely contravene's Laotian culture, and this is probably why the government has intervened.
Laotions are music less willing to overlook poor western behaviour than perhaps their neighbours.

2 days in Vang Vieng was more than enough... on to Si Pha Don

Posted by SkinnyFists 00:27 Archived in Laos Tagged tubing vang_vieng Comments (0)

Laos: Luang Prabang

Lazy and gorgeous LP; jungle trekking, canoeing, awesome food, amazing views, beautiful culture

overcast 34 °C
View liftyrskinnyfists on SkinnyFists's travel map.

Arriving in Laos

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There is nothing to dislike about Laos, and a million reasons to fall in love with it.
Dense jungle like greenery, immersed in a huge complex of water systems governed by the mighty Meekong; a rich, easy friendly culture which retains and acknowledges the nicer aspects of it's French passed (architecture, great coffee, etc).
Combined with the wonderful adventure sports on offer - Laos is perfect for the intrepid backpacker in search of thrills (of every kind!) to the easy living retirees in search of quiet, calm, beauty, quality accommodation and food.

Laos hasn't been tainted by the farang… yet.
In a way I dread what will become of Laos in years to come when tourism inevitably takes off.
Money and tourism has a funny way of changing priorities and diluting culture in Asia.

When you come to Laos, please tread lightly and relish one of the most peaceful, happy and beautiful places on this Earth.

Luang Prabang

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I took a buddy's advice and stayed at Sopha Guesthouse. It's right on the Meekong banks, suer quiet, and the price is right.
Roughly AUD$15 for a super huge dark wood room, with brand new air con, cable TV, strong wifi, fridge, new bathroom, etc ,etc.
The young couple managing it were really helpful and gave me a discount after returning from a trek.

The Town and Surrounds

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Luang Prabang is gorgeous, super clean, but somehow lacks local feel, like it was purpose built for tourists. This isn't a bad thing, but every shop in the main street was either a restaurant, travel shop, spa, gift store or guesthouse.
Mechanics, plumbing supplies, must all be far out of central LP.
LP is surrounded by the swerving Meekong. There are river views from wherever you look!

Night Market

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The ubiquitous south east asian night market. This one is special, because:
a) it's just gorgeous
b) none of the vendors push their wares. Every seller just smiles as you walk past and invites you to look.
c) THE FOOD!! There is a great food area, selling yummy Lao dinners - from spiced BBQ fish, dumplings, chicken, sticky rice (+banana or chicken or veg) wrapped in banana leaves… all the good stuff. I ate heaps!

Trekking

I booked my treks through White Elephant. Everyone online and the Lonely Planet raves about them, and this is justified.
The dude on duty showed me the treks and kayaking routes using Google maps and knew his stuff. I booked an overnight trek/Khmu home stay/kayak package.

The first day was tough. It was myself with 3 fellas from Italy and our 2 Hmong guides.
I don't recommend trekking in Laos in rainy season. The track was basically slippery, deep mud and we had to slip/climb/slide for the full 14kms.
The views made it worthwhile though.

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Our home stay was at a large Khmu (indigenous Laotian) village - home to roughly 70 families.
They were really hospitable!

I sat down with a large contingent of raucous kids and gave an impromptu English lesson…
I always start with getting them to reply to "how are you?"
Teaching states is a good way to help students express themselves (i.e.hungry, thirsty, sleepy, happy, sad, etc) because you can also show them the actions to indicate which helps associate the word. It adds humour and interaction and helps memory.

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The next day, we hiked down the other side of the pass - a bit easier sliding down than up. Then hit the magnificent Tad Lo waterfalls!

After a brief swim we kayaked downstream, down the Meekkong ... all the way back to Luang Prabang! whoop!

An exhausting day, but worth it.

Utopia

If you want to meet other travellers and have a bit of a night out Utopia is really the only place to go.
White Elephant gives you a voucher for free dinner there. I was ready for tucker then sleep after the trek, and made my way down.
The place is run by an ex-pat (I think Canadian), and employs young locals. The place is huge, serves good food and nice drinks; and there are tables and cushions everywhere for folks to congregate. It was really socially conducive.
By law, all bars must shut at 11:30 in LP…. and there is only 1 place left to go after that...

Night Bowling

When Utopia closed everyone stumbled out to the greeting tuk-tuk drivers…
"you want party more, bowling?"
Sure….
I joined new pals from Ireland and the UK and we ventured to the bowling alley which is about 15 minutes out of town.
Locals seem to take bowling seriously. There was an even mix of backpackers and locals sharing lanes, drinking Lao whiskey (too strong for this lightweight) to the sounds of loud local music.
Was such great fun!!!!
Got home at 3am, and set my alarm for 7am to catch my bus to chaos aka Vang Vieng...

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:53 Archived in Laos Tagged luang_prabang night_markets trekking_laos hmong_tribes Comments (0)

BKK - I love this city!

A shorthand guide to Immersing yourself in the super stylin', futuristic, jovial, hedonistic urban jungle of Bangkok!

semi-overcast 33 °C

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Bangkok

There is no city quite like Bangkok.
Urban Thais are super funky, fashionable, friendly and really know how to enjoy themselves.
On the other side, you can see how this city prospers - the work hard / play hard attitude is apparent here. The hospitality is second to none!

If you have seen Ridley Scott's vision of a future megatropolis in his masterpiece, Blade Runner, Bangkok will look familiar, especially viewed from the speeding Skytrain at night.

I stayed here for 4 nights to decompress after 6 months of rough (but amazing) travelling in India.
This is a summary of what I did, including some tips on how to make the most of your time here.

Khao San Road and Surrounds

Every backpacker at some point ends up on this street. Everything from quality cafes to travel agents, tattoo and piercing studios, big nightclubs, one-of-a-kind t-shirt shops, pad thai carts, a muay thai gym, etc ,etc - are all here in this condensed street.
If you are looking for traditional Thai culture, it isn't here, but it's convenient and you're sure to make new friends or bump into old travel buddies.
The only potential downside is that it's a little way out from the heart of Bangkok and areas like Sukhumvit, etc.

Lodgings

I stayed at Buddy Lodge and would definitely recommend.
Service is great, location is unbeatable, it's super quiet inside and the price is great for the area.

Shopping

I like BKK for shopping more than KL - it's more fashion forward and focuses more on open markets than big malls (though there are some mega malls!)

Chatuchak Market

By far my favourite market on earth. It dwarfs all of the London markets and is a mecca for everything from vintage clothes, records, designer wear, jewellry, pot plants, pets, furniture... a massive food area... You'll be sure to leave with stuff you never thought you needed!
I left with almost more bargains than I could carry!

MBK

Famous MBK is HUGE! An interesting combination of shops and stalls selling fake and real gear - watches, sports gear, bags, shoes, high fashion, etc.

Siam Paragon

The enormous posh shopping centre. This was the only place in all of Asia that I could find sticking REAL backpacker gear (Osprey and North Face backpacks, Merrell shoes, etc, etc. A godsend as my old Osprey had graciously passed on.
The cinemas here are also really impressive (caught Dark Knight Rises - first western film in 8 months!)

Food

Thai food is my favourite by far - light, spicy, nutritious. Bangkok is amazing for food; from street stalls, side cafes to posh restaurants.

Markets

All of the markets in Bangkok have great food stalls offering BBQ chicken, noodle soups, rice dishes, spicy salads, great coffee and bustling friendly atmosphere.

Street Food

Most working / commuting locals dine at streetside stalls; Sitting at shared plastic tables and chairs enjoying steaming spicy chicken noodle soup, chicken and rice, etc - ready in seconds - whilst chatting and laughing amidst the whir of activity.

Nightlife and Clubbing

Bangkok's nightlife is like no other - uninhibited, boisterous, classy / trashy (depending on how you like it)

Sukhumvit

Sukhumvit is one of the main thoroughfares of the city, a business district bundled with large expat community, a ton of bars (rooftop and ground dwelling).
Some of the more notable places include Q Bar and Bed Supperclub, at roughly 11pm the market stalls lining the streets make way for streetside bars serving strong coctails, and makes for an interesting bar crawl.

RCA

RCA!!! 3 enormous Ibizan like nightlubs side by side in an industrial estate... classy, huge, marble floors, champagne n coctails, high fashion, livin large, hands up high, electro, house, ambient chill, mashups. This is the place to really party.
What I really loved about RCA was the lack of farang - the place where mostly mad-fer-it Thais go to party!

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:52 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok khaosan_road rca route_66_club Comments (1)

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...

semi-overcast 26 °C
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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)

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