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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: 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: Kolkata

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

sunny 32 °C
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Kolkata (Calcutta)

Arrival

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

Plush Lodgings

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

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

Exploring Kolkata

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks Kolkata, it was a pleasure!

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

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

You can see all my photos from Kolkata here

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

India: Kerala Backwaters

Coasting on a wood boat through the breathtaking palm tree lined lake system of Kerala.

sunny 36 °C
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Kerala Backwaters

If you come to India and only have time for two places - (at this point) I would say see the Taj Mahal and then go to Varkala and from there explore Kerala Backwaters by houseboat.
Friends had described how beautiful the Kerala lakes are, however nothing quite prepares you for this area.

During the 6 hour wooden boat trip we immersed in one of the most picturesque, quiet, calm and serene places imaginable.

I'm not going to even try to describe further.
Though, feel free to have a look through my photos here:

Namaste :-)

Posted by SkinnyFists 23:20 Archived in India Tagged india varkala kerala_backwaters lakes_india nature_india Comments (2)

India: Mysore

Brief exploration of the vibrant friendly metropolis

sunny 36 °C
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Mysore

Journey

Took the 10 hour, overnight bus ride from Hampi (Hospet) to Mysore.
It was a hot and dusty old ride. There was no air con on the bus, so windows had to remain open.
India is a developing nation, and we passed through a lot of night time development - active roadworks and large building sites.
So, getting any real REM wasn't much of an option.
I sat next to Rajim, a physics student from Hospet who is studying in Mysore. We talked about education, culture, etc from the perspectives of our countries - interestingly he explained that all higher education curriculum across India is taught in English.

Mysore

I treated myself to a nice hotel here, after some sleepless air-con-less nights, and anticipating a tiring uncomfortable journey.
Pai Vista was just what the Dr ordered: gym, pool, awesome room service, sound insulated, air con, comfy bed, clean bathroom - for the princely sum of AUD$60 per night.

Mysore is a big, spacious, friendly, well educated, cosmopolitan town with plenty to see and do.
It is famous for being a yoga centre. You can do teacher training here - though options for novices like myself were limited.

I visited:

Maharaja's Palace
This place is really impressive! Not much else to say, aside from the fact that it is opulent, enormous and worth a visit.

Devaraja Market
This place is amazing. A huuuuge bustling, colourful hive of activity - with all kinds of aromas - flowers, sandalwood, incence, fish, spices, etc... and sounds - music, bargaining, shouting, socialising, etc.

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I found a new phone and came to a very satisfactory agreement after about 5 minutes of bargaining, and some pure sandalwood oil, of which Mysore is famous.

This was indeed a very nice, brief stop on the way to Ooty!

Posted by SkinnyFists 07:48 Archived in India Tagged india mysore devaraja_market markets_india Comments (0)

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