Monday, 29 November 2010

So you can smoke a spliff at the Nepalese immigration office - who knew?

Namaste from Nepal.

Before going into how excited I am about my trek starting tomorrow I will bring you up to speed from the last few days.
In my last post I said I was off to watch the cremations at the burning ghats in Varanasi, and that is just what I did and saw far more than I wanted to.
I took the short walk to the cremation sight and sat at a respectable distance with a few other tourists watching the proceedings. My main focus was on the pyre closest to me which was about 15 metres away and I told myself I would watch the enitre thing from start to finish. After about 15 mins the other tourists moved on so it was just me sitting on some steps. As with all of India, a white person is a target for a conversation, so I got talking to a local about this and that but still watching what was going on when one of the cremation workers walked up to the pyre I was watching with a big stick.
The next thing I see is him put the stick into the pyre underneath the body (which was now bare as the wrappings had burned away) and sit it up!
So there I am chatting to a local about nonsense and in front of me a burning body is sat up like it is alive. It was well crispy by this stage but all of the hair was still there and it still looked far too human. When I thought that this was freaky enough he walks around the other side and clouts the body with the stick snapping it in half, on top of itself! Basically, this done to keep the fire in a central location and burning, but it was a bit full on and then watching a loose arm flailing around at the side was, how can I say, interesting.
All this and the family of the deceased are watching as well. Actually, only the men are allowed to attend because women are weak and will cry (Indian view not mine) and there is a belief that tears will steal the soul and stop its ascent to heaven.

So that was my first morning in Varanasi, after my early morning boat ride described in my last post.

Didn't do much else that day except have some lunch and spent 2 hours or so chatting to an Austrian artist over the dinner table.
The evening was spent having a little wonder around, watching the nightly pooja (priests and prayers etc to the Ganges and the gods) and then hanging out at my hotel in the rooftop restaurant just chatting to various travellers.

Next day was quite relaxed too. A friend I met in Darjeeling came over and we just spent the day chatting on the rooftop like 2 old women (she was a women so it was fine for her).
In the evening I went on a night-time boat trip which added a new dimension to all of the proceedings going on on the ghats. Both the pooja and the burning ghat was very eerie in the darkness, but the highlight for me was being allowed to row the boat. Not many people can say they have rowed a boat down the river Ganges past burning bodies!
Then just back to the hotel and dinner with various other travellers.
Varanasi is a full on place and like no other I have been to in my life, but I liked it and it was probably a fitting place to end the Indian adventure.

Next day I left for Nepal and a mammoth journey - still it turned out to be very funny, having met more strange people, which I just seem to do.

Jouney times to Pokhara in Nepal were as follows:
Train from Varanasi to Gorakhpur - 6hrs
Local bus from Gorakhpur to the Indian border - 3 hrs
Local bus from the Nepalese border to Pokhara - 10 hrs

My plan was to get to Gorakhpur and then get some kip before continuing, but that didn't quite happen and I did the whole thing in one go.

All pretty uneventful until I got to the border at 1am.
So at 1am I had to wake up Indian immigration, as you can expect they were not happy. As I then approach the border to pass there is a group of 3 guys arguing with a taxi driver. Over the next few hours I discover that 1 of them loves an argument, and yes he was English, yes he was an old toff from the old school, and yes I did think he was a complete dick! (His name was Richard, so quite fitting really)
Anyway, we all cross the border and then have to wake up Nepalese immigration! I made sure I was first as being a very organised person I already got my visa sorted in the UK before I left. The other 3 (Dicky dickhead), Ludwig (26 from Germany) and Subos (who I kept calling Subo because I couldn't get it out of my head) a Nepalese national, hadn't sorted their visas. Well Subo obviously didn't need one.

Anyway, I ended up having to wait with them whilst the visas were processed but it was worth it because Dicky was such a complete div.
Firstly, Ludwig didn't know that he needed a passport photo to apply for a visa so there a big discussion about this.
Dicky of course stepped in.
1) he commented on how annoying the bureaucracy was to me (I didn't comment as I thought he was being stupid for saying it - of course you need a photo for your visa!)
2) he then offered up one of his own photos for Ludwig - which I couldn't believe was actually accepted
3) he then moans at the 100 rupee fee for accepting this - 100 Nepalese rupees is about 90p!!!
Agggghh - what a dick
Then to my utter disbelief, whilst the visa is being processed, Subo and Dicky spark up a spliff! I asked what the score was and Subo said it was all good.

So we eventually get over the border at about 2:30am and go to the local buses next to the border gate. The first bus was set to depart at 4am, so I found myself sitting next to the border crossing at 3am on a little bench in front of a table with a gas stove eating egg noodles and drinking coffee made by a little Nepalese woman.

Obviously I had to talk to the 3 Amigo's and it turns out Subo was Dicky's nephew through adoption, and Ludwig (I found out later on the bus journey) was Dicky's rent boy - I kid you not!
Dicky owns an 8 bedroom gaff in Berlin and has founded a 'group'. Ludwig was invited to join this group (cult) and is now Dicky's partner - but there is no commitment he assured me.
Dicky McDickhead also told me about his property portfolio worth a few million whilst smoking a spliff and how I should do such and such a trek because he has been to Nepal many times. Such a nob.

So the bus to Pokhara takes 10hrs, shared with many many locals ie. so closesly packed that one woman had to support herself sitting opposite me with her hands on my thighs - a very nice way to wake up I can tell you.
Still, the scenery was fantastic.

Eventually we get to Pokhara and Mr 'I have a cock on my head' is very angry indeed. He grabbed the driver by the scruff of the neck and threatened him because he didn't like how he spoke to him and he had lied to him about the route he took. Apparently there was another route that would take 3 hours less but I guess all of the locals who rely on the bus to get to little villages in the middle of nowhere on the route don't count for much!
Finally we get a taxi to Lakeside in Pokhara and I say my goodbyes. I could've checked out their hotel, but I think you can tell that I am maybe not too keen on Dicky, so I found my own place.

I spent the afternoon looking around, getting some trekking info and then went to meet another lad I met in Darjeeling who was leaving for he trek today. We got some dinner and then both being Spurs fans we watched a deserved victory against Liverpool.

Today was a trek prepare day. Got my permits sorted and bought some trekking gear from a cool old woman. After I had finished my purchasing we had a cup of tea together and she told me all about Pokhara and the costs of rents for shops etc - bloody expensive.
Oh, the permit office was a few km's away, so I hired a mountain bike for the journey. Was excellent riding alongside the lake with a view of forests and mountains.
I like Pokhara - it reminds me a lot of Airlie Beach in Oz. It is a party town, with lots of live music where people are either waiting to go trekking or have just come back, as opposed to the destination being the cruises to Whitsunday Islands in Airlie Beach. (somewhere I am going to work for a while) 

So that brings you up to speed. Tomorrow I venture out into the wilderness (well not quite but close enough) on a 20-25 day trek. I am doing to Annapurna circuit and then going straight into the Annapurna base camp trek. I am planning to do it in 20 days as need to get to Kathmandu for Xmas.
I am really excited. I have wanted to do this sort of thing all of my life, so I will struggle to sleep tonight like it's Xmas eve or something.

Right, that's it, I am off for some dinner. The place next door has live music on and the bloke is murdering every single song - now that is entertainment so I am going there.

Bye for now and hopefully I will have lots to tell you about in 3 wks or so, and will also be a little lighter and more toned!

And on that note I have one more thing to say - Let's 'ave it!!!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Happy birthday to me......

It seems like a lot has happened since I was last on my blog but I will try and summarise as quickly as possible as I have been up for 29hrs and I am a little tired. Also, to add to my fuzzy head and sense of being 'out of it', I am in Varanasi and below the window of where I am sat are numerous bodies being cremated which are then pushed into the Ganges river - which by the way is the filthiest stretch of water I have ever seen. I arrived at 3am this morning and waited until sunrise to get a boat down the river. On the boat ride I saw cremated bodies, people washing and praying in the river, a dead dog floating by and to top it all off my boat man was off his head on something and was drinking the water!!!! Uggghhhh!

But back to my last update - I was leaving Varkala in pain.
And it got worse!
I left Varkala at 6am in the morning knowing that the journey ahead of me to get to Darjeeling consisted of a train, followed by 2 planes, followed by another 2 trains. I got as far as plane number 1, which suffered technical difficulties and my plans were buggered. Basically I was left stranded in Chennai for 24hrs until the next days flight, which normally would have been fine as Air India were at fault and put me up in a really expensive hotel (after fannying around for 2hrs to sort it all out) and paid for all of meals; but you have to remember that I was suffering from Freddy Kruger style burns and just wanted to be in a cold dark room and not have to move anywhere! It took 2 days for me just to be able to feel my lips and my chest had blistered all over.
Anyway, I decided to 'man-up' and after a quick visit to the train station the next morning to re-arrange my train from Calcutta to New Jaipalguri I caught my plane 24hrs later than sheduled to Calcutta. Arriving in Calcutta I literally caught a taxi directly to the train station and having seen the sheer volume of traffic and 'mentalness' that was going on, I am glad that I decided to skip any more Indian cities. Calcutta is so poor that people are still offered transport via hand pulled rickshaw!

The night train left Calcutta without any hitch and got me to New Jaipalguri the next morning - 3 hours late. By this time I had missed the rather pleasant toy train up to Darjeeling so had to take a shared jeep on the 3 hour trip up into the mountains. I never knew 11 Indians and 1 Englishman could fit into a jeep!
It was really good though. The way up into the mountains took in lots of winding roads where the jeep was literally on the edge of the cliff - quite exciting.

I got into Darjeeling exactly 24 hours later than planned but still arrived a day before my birthday which was the main aim. The next aim was to find a place to stay with a lots of travellers so that I would not be a Billy No-Mates on my big day.
Literally 30 minutes later I had found a place to stay, had met 3 Spurs fans and was lined up to watch the Spurs vs Arsenal match that night - you have to love travelling when it all works out like that.
Well it didnt quite all work out, I decided to leave my accomodation 1 hour later as I couldn't face the damp sheets in the freezing cold room with only the promise of a bucket of hot water each morning to wash in - so I upgraded to a hot shower and dry sheets.
Still, that night I watched the mighty Spurs triumph over the scum with a group of about 10 people who would become really good mates over the next few days. There was a mixed group of lads and girls consisting of 5 English, 2 Danes, 1 Dutch and 3 Irish.
The next day - my birthday - was a real treat. A football match had been arranged and we managed to get a 7-a-side game sorted. I have to say that it is the most beautiful setting that I have played (and won) a game of football - on the side of a mountain, 2,200 mtrs up in the Himalayan foothills.
That evening we went for pizza, beers and the guys got me a birthday cake with a candle - nearly brought a tear to my eye, but not quite.

The day after was even better for a 31 yr old man with the mentality of a child - the zoo and the cinema! It was like having my birthday all over again. Only a Happy Meal from McDonalds was missing.
Unfortunately the zoo was a little depressing. It was amazing to see a snow leopard, probably the only chance I will get to ever see one, but seeing all of the big cats in small cages was not good. The tiger was so impressive though - absolutely huge. I probably spent about 30 mins just watching him pace back and forth in front of me.
I also met a really nice couple from the UK at the zoo who now live in Indonesia. I spent the afternoon with them and now have a place to stay if I venture over that way. They told me about a nightclub they go to in Jakarta that sounds out of this world - legal there but very illegal in the UK - sounds class.
To top it all off, that evening, me and 3 of the girls went to watch the new Harry Potter (in the Himalayas). I loved it! Poor Dobby :-(

Being in Darjeeling, home of the 'Rolls Royce' of teas, it would be rude not to visit the tea plantation. Now I cannot stand tea, taste or smell, but when in Rome....
So a few of us went on a tour of the factory, quite odd seeing signs up for Harrods, and then to the tea house to taste some of Darjeeling's finest. Can you believe that I had my first ever full cup of tea. It was ok, but I have not been converted and tea is still 'not my cup of tea'.
The best thing about the plantation was the view; real snow capped mountians not far away looking like they were touching the ceiling of the sky - amazing.
That night a new traveller arrived who wanted to see Harry Potter - so I took her. Twice in the 2 days - wicked.
Later that evening I said my farewells to everyone as I was off early the next day but the good thing is that I should be catching up with a few of them again. 1 in Nepal in a week or so, and 3 others in Jan in Thailand.

So I left Darjeeling, which I have to say is a really interesting and relaxed place. Most travellers I had met had just hung around there for a week or 2 doing not a lot. I only spent 5 days there, but it was really nice just to do the same as them and hang around like when I was at uni.

Not much to add about my train journey to Darjeeling except that I sat opposite a gay Amercian man from San Fancisco whose name was Yves (male version of Eve for the illiterates among you) - we had a good old laugh about that!!!
He was a really interesting bloke though. He was a retired medic from ther US Army, been to all of the recent wars etc and had some crazy stories. It helped pass the 10 hour train journey.

So I will end where I began. I got to Varansi this morning and I am off to go and explore now. Meeting a friend tonight who I met in Darjeeling and we are going to take a boat down the Ganges after sunset which is supposed to be really eerie. I will have to see if it is better than sunrise.
One thing is for certain, it is an absolute doss-hole here. Still, I am in the City of the Dead so what did I expect? This is where Indians come to die - and the place smells like it too. It also looks like the dogs and cows come here to die as well!

I am going to go and watch some bodies burn in a minute. Apparently they make real loud bangs / pops when the internal gases burn, and if a limb hangs out of the fire they will snap it and fold it back into the middle of the pyre! Gruesome, but compelling viewing - maybe?

Well that is it for India. My next post will come Nepal - and the cold.
Can't believe my first country is done and I have completed 8 wks. Feels like it has been a lot longer but it has been an excellent adventure so far and I have met some really cool people, some of which I will definitely see again.
Bring on country number 2!

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

What time is it? It's chilly time!

I am reporting from the mini Utopia of Varkala is south Kerala. I love this place although it is a little touristy, but the people, the beaches and the travellers here have made it my best 4 days yet. The bonus is that I wasn't even supposed to be here and only decided to get off of the train after speaking to locals about it and asking their opinion.
Before I got here I was in Fort Cochin for a couple of days. It was a really nice, laid back place. Not much to do except watch the fishermen who still Chinese fishing nets to catch the fish, but it was good. You get to the place via the local ferries which adds something to it, especially when there is a ferry traffic-jam and you have to climb through 4 boats to get to dry land.
Whilst in Cochin I also went on a trip of the backwaters. You spend the morning in a canoe being taken around the narrow waterways. After that you get out and are given a guided tour around the village. That was really good as the guide showed us all of the local plants that are used and you get to smell and taste them. For example, there was nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, old spice and curry. Sounds a bit gay, I know, but it was really good to see it in it natural form and not on a supermarket shelf. I never knew what a pepper plant looked like because you just don't think about it.
Being shown the natural medicines was good too - getting back to basics and knowing you can live off of the forest etc, if you know what you are doing!
We then had a traditional lunch eaten off a banana leaf which was excellent and the beer helped too!
The afternoon was then spent on a houseboat travelling around the lake. Most people slept for this but I was sitting with 2 English girls who have been travelling for a couple of years so I picked their brains about Oz and New Zealand.
So that was Fort Cochin, quiet, relaxed and beautiful sunsets - like everywhere else in India I guess.
Oh another thing about Cochin is that alcohol isn't really on the menu so it gets served to you in a teapot so the authorities don't see it!

Whilst in Cochin I got talking to a couple of Indian lads. I got the same old questions about if I was travelling alone and if I was married as at 30 yr old I should be!
It is so different here. A girl has to be married by 22 and a boy by 28, and it will be arranged. They really do not have much freedom to choose a partner. Then once married they will all live at the man's parents house, the entire family and whatever is earnt by each individual is split fairly between everyone.
Now I obviously would not want to live like this, but I must say one thing. I have yet to meet a young Indian male who is not polite, friendly and is doing their best to get an education to improve themselves. Which is a lot more than I can say about the youth in my own country.
The saddest part about it is no matter how well they are doing at work, because the wages aren't great and the money has to be split between family none of them are likely to leave their own country even though a high percentage of people I have met dream of doing so to see some of the world. Another thing I have to be grateful for I guess.

On the morning of leaving Cochin my hotel owner told me not to go the Kovalam, where I was originally supposed to be heading and instead stop off at Varkala. I then thought I would ask the opinion of the restaurant owner and someone on the train and they all agreed that Varkala was best, so I went with the local knowledge and turned up at about 8pm with no where to stay.
The train journey there was an experience. There was a massive electrical storm so I spent 2 hours hanging out of the door of a fast moving train watching it. Bloody brilliant.
Once at Varkala, I met a rickshaw driver who assured me he could get me a good place to stay at a good rate so I decided to give him a chance. As I turned up I was very dubious as we approached from the back. Once I got to the front I could've hugged him. The room was one of the best yet, it was cheap and the location was excellent.
Varkala is set along the top of a cliff and mainly made up of the restaurants / bars and shops. My room was right in the middle and has a sea view - nice.
The Rock N Roll bar is next door and you get 10% off staying at my hotel. So I thought on my first night I would check it out. I got in there at 9pm and left at 5am. It was one of the owner's birthday so he was dragging everyone in who walked past. At one point there were about 25 of us all sat around a table getting on it. I ended up hanging out with 2 Norwegian and 2 American girls (I like female company) and that is who I have spent the last 3 days with - more so with the Norwegians.
The only bad part of the evening was the birthday boy getting into a fight with some other locals and having to leave town for a couple of days, but more on that later.
One funny thing that happened was an Essex girl (who tried to steal my book) got too p*ssed and walked straight out of the bar and over the cliff edge. Fortunately it wasn't a big drop at this point but she didn't know that because it was dark and she was rescued 'hanging' onto the edge. It is bad but I still think it is funny.
An uncomfortable moment that I had that night was when speaking to an English couple that I think had consumed more than just alcohol. As I am talking to the lad, his bird starts to squeeze and rub my leg!! The lad saw it too and didn't quite know what to say, so I just carried on talking like it wasn't happening and moved my leg. Then she started rubbing my arm and I just had to shift my chair little bit to the side - how random.

Next day after finally getting up we spent the remainder of the day at the beach, followed by a 4am finish in Rock N Roll. It was a funny night. Myself, Unni, Sigrid (the Norwegians) and Max (bar owner) spent the evening playing 'Sh*thead' (A card game for those of you who do not know). The forfeit for losing was to eat a chilly. I lost 4 times. Max lost 8 times, and as an Indian he still struggled with the chillies. Hot hot hot.

Yesterday was again a very lazy day. By lazy I mean lunch and a visit to the cash machine. We then hit Rock N Roll again for more cards but agreed not to use chillies. Instead it was shots of rum.
Before we know it, the chillies made an appearance and in the course of 20 games I lost 9 times. So 4 shots and 5 chillies for me. Chilly number 5 was unbelievable. Numbers 2 and 3 had already given me a spinny room and my t-shirt was quite damp from the sweat but number 5 literally blew my head off. There are a series of photos that show the event of number 5 taking place and I will get the onto Facebook when I can - there are funny.
The night then took a dark turn. Hiness (who left town for fighting) was back and no sooner had he got back to the bar those other blokes came looking for him. What happened next can only be described as shocking. I didn't see it all as we just sat at the table drinking, but there were knives and glass in use, and big knives too. Our card game was cut short as Max tried to keep the peace and ended up in hospital for his trouble. A nice knife wound that needed stitches. I was told today that 2 blokes from the 'other side' are still in hospital and needed to surgery to repair their wounds. It was mental and all set to the back drop of a massive storm on a cliff side - like some sort of action movie.
Even though that was all crazy and just plain reckless and stupid it hasn't ruined my experience here. My time spent with Unni, Sigrid, Max and the yanks has been brilliant and I will be sorry to leave.

What has ruined my time here was getting badly sunburnt today. It wasn't even my fault! I bought some sun lotion which I discovered this afternoon (which was about 3 hours too late) had expired. Couple that with the fact that I am secreting chilly sweat and you have a recipe for disaster. I was only in the sun for 2 hours but the burns are bad. Lobster isn't quite a good enough analogy for my appearance.

Still I am heading to Darjeeling tomorrow, which is in the foothills of North-East India. So no more burns. I will not see a beach again now until mid-January at least as Frodo Baggins is now embarking on his mission through the Himalayas after 2 final stops in India. I still have 2 more weeks in this country but I already know that I will miss it a lot. I am so very glad that I chose to come here. Yes there have been times when I wanted to get out but mostly it has been brilliant. If anyone gets the chance to come, I would tell you to do it 100%.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A blast from the very distant past

I sit here waiting to go down to Cochin in Kerala and looking back on the last 2 days in Goa can only be described as a surreal but worthwhile time.
I got into Goa about 3 hours late due to us being on the edge of a tropical storm. I didn't see any of it as I slept through it all but the flooded train tracks told the story for me. Therefore, I got into Baga for about midday. My reason for choosing Baga as my destination in Goa was because I read that it was the party capital of India - I wouldn't actually know that because I spent all of my drinking time in an old man English pub!!

I met 3 English lads who were staying at my hotel and on the first night I went our for food with them and they were telling me about this old pub where a load of ex-pats and people who come out here for 6mths at a time drink; the added bonus was that it was a Spurs pub and I could watch the match that was on that night (a nice 1:30am kick off).
So the lads took me to this pub where I met Craig the landlord, Barry the bookie who runs a book on all the games and in his spare time he also makes Scotch Eggs which he sells in the pub!!! There was Noel, who worships the sun and the women, he was about 60 but had a couple of birds at home in their late twenties (so he says). I met a few other blokes as well, they all live out here for the English winter and all they do is drink every day - not a bad life.
So I am watching the Spurs game with Barry and we are talking about this and that. He asks me where I am from and I explain originally that I am from Leicester but moved away for uni etc. He turns around and calls over a bloke and introduces me to him because he is from Leicester and of course we all know each other. It turns out that I did know him, and I used to know him very well indeed.

It took me a couple of minutes to realise who I was looking at but it was the dad of my best friend from birth up until about the age of 12 (although I need to mention that during the last couple of years of this period I did meet Stu 'The Pooh Bear' Hayden who would go onto to become one of my top homeboys and I still hang around with him today - love you pooh!).
Colin (my mate's dad) sat next to my dad at school and then they were drinking partners during their teens and early 20's. Myself and Ben (his son) were born a couple of months apart and were inseparable until we went to different secondary schools.
The reason that this was such a surreal experience is that unfortunately Ben died in his mid-20's in a car crash and I was unable to make the funeral (probably the only regret I carry around with me), so I had not seen Colin for about 20 years. Even more poigniant was being reminded that of the group of about 7 of us that went through nursery and primary school together and would hang out at Colin's house is that only 4 of us were still alive by our mid-20's too - something I am all too aware of.
So we had a good booze up and talked for hours about the 'old days'.

Yesterday I spent the day at the beach, not much to tell except that the water was lovely and warm.
In the evening I had the option of either going to a club and trying to pull some Russian birds (unlikely) or going for a roast dinner with Colin and his wife. I chose the latter, it was bloody lovely, and then they took me to play bingo at the 'local' that I had frequented the night before. It was really funny, they still use all of the 'legs eleven' bingo lingo. We then carried on boozing and watched more footy until the early hours.
Like most people there, Colin and his Mrs are out here for 4 mths at least - my aim is to be able to get myself a job that allows me to do this.
However, I couldn't get on the lash like they all do every day. Colin was drinking half pints of Brandy mixed with Port and I saw him have about 8 of them - that is hardcore, and that will be the pattern 7 days a week for the next 4mths - that would kill me, but fair play to him.

So that was Goa. Not the big party I had hoped for, but a really good two days none the less.

Monday, 8 November 2010

I have actually just been to another world

Yo yo yo people

I am currently sat in an internet cafe in Mumbai waiting for my train to Goa. I was supposed to be there 2 days ago but decided to make a last minute change and go to Pune for a 2 day stay at a meditation centre. Yes I know that doesn't sound like me but you have to try everything once, and there was also a rumour of sexual enlightment which was a big reason for going!
So off I went to the Osho resort.

In order to get to Pune I had to make an early morning visit to the train station which was not welcomed after my night out with the Oz lads and in the end a group of 4 yanks too. It was a really good night and it was nice to get drunk. I also got this Indian lad involved because he was out on his own and the last I remember of him was him falling flat on his face outside of the bar (I don't think he is used to vodka). I managed to palm him off onto some other Indian lads and they said they would get him home!
He was a good lad though and his script that he had written and was hoping to get made into a film was brilliant - as in the sexual content offended the yank girls.

So early morning in the station, still a little intoxicated, in a long and hot queue for a ticket. Obviously being English I appreciate an orderly queue so when 2 Indian chaps tried to push in (after already being told to queue by someone else) I lost it. It isn't often I lose my patience but I was just not in the mood so I told them to 'do one' and get to the back of the queue. We had a verbal altercation which I won and people in the queue congratulated me (which was funny) - it left me thinking that perhaps I am in need of some mediation etc.
I sat with a nice bloke on my way to Pune who told me all about the company he works for - providing steel for buildings and took me through a 143 page presentation on his laptop!! After he had finished I slept all the way to Pune as it was that riveting.

Now onto the Osho centre. Having read about the place before I came, I was aware that I would not be allowed to wear my civilian clothes once admitted. Maroon robes are required for the daytime and white for the evening. Still, upon my arrival it was odd seeing all of these people wondering around, dressed exactly the same.
I checked in, which included an on the spot HIV test (high hopes!) and prepared for the 6:30pm meditation session. This is where it got interesting. (but not in the way you are thinking)

Picture the scene - it is dark, I along with about 200 other people are milling around outside the auditorium dressed in white robes and the lighting is provided by flames. I was starting to think that I had gotten myself into some sort of pagan cult. I was looking around nervously for the sacrificial Lamb. (no pun intended)
At 6:30pm sharp, we are allowed to enter the auditorium which is under a big pyramid shaped roof, quite masonic, which also adds to my rising nervousness.
As I enter it is deathly quiet and I sit down on the cold marble floor along with everyone else. After about 10mins still nothing except silence.
Then some people walk to this room at the front that I hadn't really noticed, take their seats behind the instruments and start belting out this little funky little jazz number.
A woman at the front was straight up, raising her hands to the ceiling in a prayer like fashion and then starts dancing in the most random fashion. As I look around, people slowly start to rise and before I know it most of the hall is up, dancing in what can only be described as a loonatic manner.
Just about everyone had their eyes closed and were off somewhere that I clearly was not. I am not joking, I burst out laughing, it was brilliant. One old bloke in front of me was just jumping up and down on the spot, I mean, that was all he was doing and it wasn't even in time to the music. I really wish I could've filmed it to show you all, it was priceless. There were at least 20 David Brent's going on.

So I know you are all wondering if I got involved? Of course I did!! It took me about 15 mins to get my head around what I was seeing but then I got up and let my inhibitions go. The only difference between me and everyone else is that I did not have my eyes closed (I was not going to miss this) and I was the only one laughing. One of the best bits was every 5 mins or so, the music stopped and everyone had to raise their hands and shout 'Osho' in unison. Ha ha, it was so so funny.
The funky band ended their session after about 30mins - and it was the same song all of that time. It is still in my head now!

After that, a big screen was lowered and Osho himself appeared on the screen. Now I do not know much about him except that he is a seriously intelligent, well read bloke and was a famous guru back in the day. So, he begins his pre-recorded (as he is now dead) teachings for that evening. I have to admit, I struggled to understand what he was on about, I couldn't see how him blowing his own trumpet (not literally because that would have been entertainment) for 1 hour benefited my thinking and well-being. I also have an issue with someone calling themselves master (unless it is Yoda) and talking about everyone who loves and is devoted to him. However, the audience were lapping it up.
After Osho had had his say, the screen went blank and his voice came over the speaker system and he told a funny story, which wasn't bad to be fair, and everyone went into laughter overdrive. I think this was some sort of laughter meditation. Then all of a sudden a drum was hit and everyone started shouting the most vile things and talking in the giberish - yes I was getting a little nervous again.

Unbeknown to me, because I arrived late in the day and had missed the orientation session so I wasn't aware of all the stuff that would be going on.

After about 5 mins of shouting the drum was hit again and silence resumed. At this point we all had to lay back and begin the 'meditation' part. We were told reach deep within, blah blah blah and hold onto that happy part etc.
Now as I said, I like to think of myself as being completely open minded and willing to give anything a go (except homosexuality) but I quickly realised that this is not me. I am quite happy and at peace with myself and I know where I am going and what I want from my life, and even if I am not 100% there I know what I need to do to reach my happy place and mediation is not the way for me. It seemed to me that the people around me were still looking for something. Maybe I am completely wrong and they are all sorted, but what happens when they leave this little bubble they live in and return to the real world? (A lot of the people were on 3-6 mth residential courses).
Then it was over. We all filtered out, and lots of people were embracing and holding each other.
I on the other hand got a move on as I had read that there was a disco starting in 30 mins!
The disco was good. It was more of the same of what I had seen in the hall and everyone got involved, many without drinking and they were all happy. Perhaps there is something to be said for it all, but the next day I got up and left. It just isn't for me, but at least I have tried it now.

On reflection, I am not totally opposed to what I have seen, after all I am a great believer in the power of the mind and its ability to overcome any issue and even cure physical illness, but I think it is the way that it was delivered that got to me. I have a major problem with authority, nobody controls me, I am free to make my own choices, there is no fate. You all know that I am an atheist and sincerely believe that I am just an organism that has evolved and under the laws of sheer probability is very lucky to be alive. I will continue to live as I have always tried to and make full use of the finite number of years that I have been given to have as much fun as possible. I also will never be calling anybody my 'master'.

Now reading this back it sounds like I have lost the plot - don't worry mum, I am fine honest. This is what happens when I have too much time on my hands, too much thinking = me getting philiosophical.
And anyway, this is my blog, my forum to air my views, opinions and experiences.

To prove that I am ok, I checked out of the centre, checked into another hotel and watched Arsenal vs Newcastle followed by Liverpool vs Chelsea with a few beers. It was ace.

Bring on Goa and my own brand of meditation - a party.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Happy Diwali

Today is Diwali and I am more than aware that it is today due to the constant noise of bangers and fireworks.
I am currently in Mumbai, which is hot, muggy, busy but I like it for some reason. I think what has swayed me is that there is a nightlife (a rarity so far in my Indian travels), good beer, lots of travellers, beef (which I have missed a lot) and western music (which I have really really missed).

But back to my journey here which was a mission.
I had my final safari at Banhavgarh and did not see a tiger unfortunately. It was still really good though as we went high up into the hills whilst the early morning mist was still around which added to the mystery of it all. Of the wildlife that I did see I saw jackals, vultures, eagles, lots of deer and spiders as big as my hand.
So I had to settle for a sighting of just one tiger which in a way was nice. It highlights how rare they actually are (yes I am an eco-warrior) and I would prefer that they stay hidden and away than be out there in the open to be hunted.
It appears that I was quite fortunate anyway, I spoke to one group who had been on 5 safaris and not seen 1 tiger and another group who had been on 3 with no sightings. Guess I was really lucky to see 1 tiger in my first 10mins!
After hanging out for the rest of day on Bandhavgarh I got up bright and early to catch a bus to the nearest town to begin my long journey to Mumbai.
I got the once a day train from Umaria to Katni and was there by 1pm, my train to Mumbai did not leave until 19:15pm. At 11:30pm I was still waiting for my train to Mumbai!
I usually do not mind the constant attention from Indian people but after 10 hours at the station I was losing my patience with the constant staring, photos and attempts to talk to me.
The only interesting things to happen during that 10 hour stretch was to see a man in chains brought onto the platform by 2 policemen with big rifles. The criminal said hello to me and before I realised what I had done I smiled and said hello in Hindi. The policemen must've thought 'why is he speaking to this man'. He could've been a murderer or a rapist and there I am greeting him like a friend!
I also saw an Indian albino which was cool.
Another thing that struck me at Katni train station is the low level of productivity of Indian workers. For example, a post needed painting at the station and it took 4 men to complete the job - 1 to paint, 1 to hold the step ladder (not sure why), 1 to hold a cloth and 1 to watch. In England, 1 person would have complete that job.
I have noticed all around India that vast numbers of people are employed to do jobs that would need only a fraction of the work force to complete in Europe. Still, at least they are working and not sitting around doing nothing, watching Jeremy Kyle, like a lot of people in the UK. (Yes, I know I am unemployed!!!)

I finally got to Mumbai at 6pm yesterday evening, a full 33 hours after leaving Bandhavgarh.
I am staying at the Salvation Army hostel, my first dorm experience and it isn't too bad. Do not get me wrong, there is no luxury but it is very cheap and easy to meet people ad my breaky is included in the price.
I had been there only 10 minutes before I went out for dinner and drinks with 3 Brit girls who took me to a really good pub with quality music. It was so nice to hear some Radiohead, The Verve and Oasis as well as some old classics from a source other than my i-pod.

This morning I got up early and headed to the railway station to sort out some of my travel plans. I have decided to alter my original itinerary and spend more time in the south (Goa and Kerala) and sack off my trips to Chennai and Calcutta. I am fed up of cities and am now craving beaches and the ocean before I hit the mountains.
After sorting out my travel I went to lunch at a restaurant that was hit during the Mumbai attacks in 2008. There is still a massive bullet hole in the wall which is a little eerie.
My original plan was to go over to Elephanta Island today and explore the caves there but Barrack Obama arrives in town tomorrow - staying at the hotel opposite the Salvation Army - so everything has been disrupted. It is quite annoying that a stupid American is spoiling my trip.
However, I have just met 2 Oz lads (sitting next to me now) and 2 German lads in my dorm and after I finish this post we are heading down to the bay to watch the Diwali fireworks show at sunset and get drunk. I can't wait! I haven't been properly p*ssed yet so it is all good.

Finally I have to say that I am having an amazing time but I cannot tell you all how gutted I was to have missed probably Spurs' finest performance in many years. I am really missing footy and I really wish I was the The Lane for that game, but I guess I cannot have it all - which for those of you that know me well, really annoys me.
Still, if we make it to the Champions League final (unlikely but you never know) then you will all see me a lot sooner than you thought because I will come home for it - one condition of me selling my season ticket to Mr Comrey.

Speak to you all from Goa.

Monday, 1 November 2010

I spy with my little eye something beginning with T

This post comes to you from deep within the jungle of the Bandhavgarh National Park. I am feeling very Bear Grylls / Steve Backshall but in reality I am probably giving off an air of Ray Mears / David Bellamy.

But before we talk tiger - singular, I had better update you all on the past few days.
In my last post I said I was going to impose myself upon some travellers for my last night in Udaipur and I did just that. I went back to the same spot to watch the sunset and got talking to 2 Oz women, Lara and Moss from Sydney who were in India on a business venture. They were staying at the City Palace Hotel (an actual palace) which was slightly nicer than the Khumba Palace (not an actual palace) where I was. So we hung out for the evening there and drank expensive drinks (my wallet took a hit by Indian standards). They were also telling me about a newlywed couple who were at the hotel - an Irishman and a German woman and that David (the groom) had come down to the pool in his full suit and tie at 11am that morning. When asked what he was doing he said it was for the photos they were taking! It was about 35 degrees that day.
Anyway, about 10 mins later David (sporting a white tux and was remarkably like Brin from Gavin & Stacey in personality) and his bride turn up and join us. I have to say, he was brilliant, very funny. We all ended up back at their suite that overlooked the lake and carried on with the drinking. David kept doing Sean Connery impressions for some reason and before long it became apparent that his bride was a massive film buff and I think he was getting into character for some fun and games later because she kept replying in an evil German accent!!
The next day was spent hanging around waiting to leave for Agra and I wasted the time by hanging out with Lara and Moss at their swimming pool.
A good thing about meeting these 2 is that I now have a couple of more people to hang out with in Sydney and Lara's brother plays for a footy team there too, so hopefully I will be able to get a few matches in, as I am desperate to kick a ball already.

Onto Agra and more sightseeing. My hotel was located about a 5 min walk from the Taj Mahal gate and the roof top restaurant had a great view.
I arrived on Friday, the only day of the week that the Taj is closed so went on a tour of the other sights. First was Agra Fort. I can't tell you much about it, I am truly fed up with all of this fort, palace and temple sightseeing business (as I said in my last post) so I walked around in a bit of a daze not paying any attention.
Next was the baby Taj, which was quite impressive and I got to see some eagles close up which was quite exciting for me.
Finally I went to a spot where you can see the sunset over the Taj. It would've been great if it wasn't cloudy!
On the way back, my rickshaw driver picked up a couple of stranded Kiwi girls, so I ended up having dinner with them.
I got up at 5am the next day to see the Taj at sunrise and I am glad that I did. The Taj is one monument that I would never get sick of visiting. I literally stared at it from every angle possible for about 3 hours. It is hard to explain what it is about it, but in all the pictures you have seen, nothing compares to actually seeing it there in front of you and I would say to everybody to try to go and see it before you die.
I also ran into Dave, an Oz bloke I met the week before in Jaipur, as you do.

Agra was a short and sweet visit, literally 18hrs. My taxi ride to the train station out of there was interesting. In the passenger seat was the first openly gay Indian man that I have met. Of course, he took an instant shine to me and told all about how he hasn't had a boyfriend for 3 years and is really in need of one. I was then told how sexy I was and had beautiful eyes and he kept winking at me. The worst / best bit was when he sang to me in a very high voice and I had to tell in him to stop it. As I got out of the cab he asked me to cancel my trip and stay with him for a few days - I had told him that I was only into women about 5 times already but that I could hook him up with someone in Soho if he wanted. Anyway, I was out of there a quick as.

We are now back to the present in Bandhavgarh.
I arrived at the station at 5am, with no transport, no hotel and no safari's booked. I managed to blag a lift from one of the resort drivers to the park which is 30km away for a paltry 300 rupees - about $4 (I am using dollar for pound sign as I can't find it on the keyboard). I asked him about rooms at his place and they were going for $215 per night! He dropped me off in the village and I found a room for $5.70 per night. Admittedly it isn't the Hilton and I am sharing with a few insects but it will do me.
As for safari costs, it is about $60 for a 4 hour safari, no matter how many people you have in a Jeep. So my mission yesterday was to find people to share with, which is what I did. I met Ravi and Adele in the afternoon and agreed to share with them. As I am finding is usual with these things we then had dinner and drinks and played some cards at their hotel, which is a lot better than mine and cheaper too. I am sending this post from their hotel which I have just moved into! A sweet $5 per night and full of travellers too. Over dinner we met a couple of Germans and they agreed to share the safari too. So my safari this morning cost me $12.
The reason I am telling you all of this is that I got a few quotes when I was back in England to stay at this park and the cheapest I got was $600 incl 3 safaris.
So far, it has cost me $27 for 3 nights accommodation and 1 safari. Organise it yourselves people!

One bad thing about where I am staying is that there is no ATM. This meant catching a bus back to the train station which I had just come from. My first Indian bus journey and it broke down half way there.
I eventaully got back to Umaria and went in search of the ATM. It was evident that people on safari do not visit Umaria. As I walked around, some children ran and hid from the evil white man, whilst other people peered through their garden gates and came out to watch me walk past. If ever I was self-conscious, India has cured me of it.
I could'nt find the ATM so some random bloke took me there on the back of his motorbike - of course without a helmet.
Back at the park I was accosted by a group of about 10 Indian lads to sit with them and they asked me all about sex and women etc in the UK. They were a little shocked about how it is at home. For some reason I had to then arm wrestle 3 of them. I won the first 2 but then they brought out Hans who hadn't smiled since I had been there and was pretty big. I lasted for a while but then gave in - I am not sure how he would've taken losing.
I blame the loss of the fact that I had already had 2 contests and didn't have a cap to turn around like Sly Stallone in Over the Top.

So, the safari, the reason that I am here; which I can summarise it it in 2 lines:
Started at 6am, bloody cold, saw a tiger in the wild in our first 10mins which is one of my dreams fulfilled and then didn't see anymore!
We did miss 2 extremely close up tiger sightings, by close I mean crossing the road in front of the Jeep by only a couple of minutes each time, but it is all about luck. I am going again tomorrow so need to find some more people to share, but if not I will go on my own, so fingers crossed.

Only last week, a tiger was walking through the village I am in and killed a cow - I want some of that action.

That's it for now, oh except that I hate mosquitoes! They are eating me alive in the jungle and do not  care that I have repellent on. I have resorted to wearing trousers and long sleeved top even though it is hot. I got one of the little ******** yesterday and was rewarded with a covering in my own blood.

Next post will me from Mumbai (Bombay), Slumdog Millionaire stylee.