Cultural differences?
Mar19

Cultural differences?

Sitting here in my usual early evening lakeside position. Slightly early for a beer. Chatting to a totally charming and disarming old lady who sells beads. She is a 1959 Tibetan refugee, and as is the way with all Tibetans she is sweetness and happiness personified. Therefore she does a roaring trade, disarming any tourist that comes in her path. As she says if you have to do business, do happy business. Having dinner on a balcony last night, stumbled on one of those rare places that rises above merey very good up towards the sublime. As it got dark a motorbike procession passed down the street. Honking horns,Tibetan banners general raising of tension. Some sort of political unrest? A riot on the way? Police loitering menacingly. The waiters arrive leaning over the balcony shouting excitedly as well. WE WON. WE WON. We beat the Bangladeshis. Cricket…….  ...

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Hippy Dippy Pokhara
Mar16

Hippy Dippy Pokhara

Feel like I'm on a Thai beach. Himalaya in background and Sun going down fast over the lake. Today was Sunaday, a day off and 'Holi', day a religious but mostly fun day marking Spring's beginning. Consisted of everybody buying bags of coloured dye and throwing or smearing at anyone they passed. Naturally the Nepalese youths and oddly all ages of Westerners were most enthusiastic. It's a colorful place today. My hippy dippy cafe by the lake has been overrun by the cool, young, hippy festival crowd. Dreds are a must. Sitting bewitched by an American girl tranced out to the music with a hoop. She is the real deal. She has transcended the hoolahoop and gone way beyond. Quite a dance sight. Us oldies are easy to please. Meanwhile I'm reading about Schopenhauer. I think he would have approved. More about Lumbini to follow. Just caught in the youthful moment of the present!  ...

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Buddhist chanting in a German stupa
Mar14

Buddhist chanting in a German stupa

Lumbini, birthplace of the Buddha. But I'll leave the most of that place to Paul to describe, apart from the German built stupa- a temple if you like, that we wandered into as part of our cycle trip around what I can only describe as a spiritual Disneyland. We heard what I thought was a tape being played but as we stepped into the stupa seated on the floors were several hundred maroon clad monks. Sounds of drums, clashing symbols, and hymn like chanting of texts. The cacophony is supposed to shock you out of your everyday thoughts….it worked. Underscoring the sound was an ultra low, growling tone. This, according to our book, was a form of gyu-ke or tantric voice. Monks from the Gelug- pa order use this extraordinary throat singing technique as a virtuous practice in the recitation of holy texts, also the demanding technique creates its own meditational discipline. I was casting about to see this holy growler and there he was, large, ancient as the Himalayas, with long black hair caught up in a bun on the top of his head. Truly impressive, even more so as he never seemed to breath. Alpenhorn like trumpets blasted, hand bells rang and a damaru rattle drum was beaten. A damaru is a particularly powerful instrument :commonly used by shamans in Nepal, it may be made of two human half skulls. Interestingly my book tells me that the pair of beaters used on the drum should ideally contain male and female pubic hairs. All good stuff and suitably esoteric. After that we climbed back on our bicycles and peddled off to see what the next temple had on offer.  ...

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Varanasi
Mar13

Varanasi

It's me Paul this time. I think it's better to write a few days after being somewhere, distance lends a certain completeness. ( Judy I know you like the relationship stuff ) We are getting on fine together as good travelling companions, but with a few what is the meaning of life conversations as well! I'm writing this next to a beautiful lake, in the Himalaya with tantalising white glimpses of the highest peaks in the world. Thinking about Varanasi and our time spent there. After giving up trying to get a train, only one a day and booked weeks in advance, we cheated and flew. Obviously now the Indian middle class mode of transport. Brand new Airbus, one of dozens continually taking off and landing going literally everywhere in India. Western priced planes with western priced fuel and no shortage of business. India is indeed a land of twin economies. Met at airport by our driver. This totally takes the hassle out of arriving at new places. Now Indian roads are scary places. Like most Indian phenomena, not designed for Western sensibilities. Dangerous and with absolutely no rules whatsoever. Don't believe any advert for a second hand car with only one careful owner in India. If you could choose a driver you would do so on the basis of age. Being old and still alive is a reassuring thing. Ours was young, with a young mate at his side and not only was he mad like the rest but he was fast and mad, and I'm sure closer to death than his older colleagues. Wo. There was no vehicle or place where he would not overtake, I was forced in the end not to watch, a bit like closing your eyes at the dentist. The roads became increasingly narrow and busier until gridlock set in. He finally abandoned the car and grabbed our bags and we hurried off through narrow lanes where only feet and small mopeds ventured. It was quieter, getting dark. Glimpses of everything and anything. Total diorientation. Finally a dark passage, a few loiterers, slight unease and rush into a doorway. We had found the Shiva Ganges Guest House. Presided over by a small elderly Brahmin lord. He was Mr fixit extraordinaire. “It is a pleasure to serve your every need sir. It is my duty to see you want for nothing” with a slight rocking of his head. This was his mantra, repeated many times, and actually true insofar as he literally could fix anything. We had an AC top floor immaculately clean huge room overlooking the whole of life that is the Ganges....

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The return of Lumbini
Mar11

The return of Lumbini

Yes Lumbini part two, as Ellen signposted I'd like to say something too. Not much to look at in Buddha Nagar the small commercial hub. Even Clint Eastwood would have wafted through and not paid much attention while drifting the high planes. Maybe a gnarled old gunslinger chatting to a colleague too young to be dead yet. We chose our room cheap and got what we paid for. Chose the Lotus cafe for beer and food. Does anybody do bad food? Chatted to some lovely Canadian women and a Thai guy. They came from the equivalent of Cornwall, prince so and so Island in the Far East of Canada. It gets very cold there. Back to Lumbini, the only example I know of a Religious United Nations setup. Some bright visionary brought up the land surrounding the Buddhas birthplace, a sizeable chunk of the marshy mosquito and malaria infested area of Nepal called the Terai. It's a long slither of land separating the Himalaya and the Indian hoards. It gets pretty steamy and grows most of the food. The purchaser did some extensive land and waterscaping and set up 40+ lots so that each country's Buddhist tradition could set up their own temple. You have to hand it to the Buddhists, great idea. Imagine Christians contemplating a similar setup. We hired bikes to get around the site. The whole place is only slightly down at heel. Lots of guards. Loads of non-urgent building work going on. Some sumptuous temples. We chose the most pristine, which of course was German funded according to the gate keeper. The only blades of grass out of position were those that had grown a little in the hour since they were last cut. The large heavy prayer wheels ran as smooth as a Merc. It was beautiful in a kitch way. The Puja that Ellen described was in full flow. After a few seconds settling in at the back with other Western gawpers the atmosphere could be appreciated. Obviously a holy and venerable place. But interestingly not holier than thou. The young boy monks shifting fiddling and nudging with big grins. Teenager monks whispering jokes to each other. The lama often just looked around cleaning his glasses. And in amongst all of this a tall lanky youngish monk was slowly going round all the assembled dishing out tea from a huge tea pot. Then I saw that as well as the usual cushion to sit on and small table to place holy words most monks had a collection of other goods including tea cups hidden under the desks. This was a living service, a...

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Agra, Shit and the Mahal
Mar09

Agra, Shit and the Mahal

  I'm in awe of the people of Agra. This ancient city is famous for the Mughal palace of Fatehphur Sikri , theTaj Mahal , chemical factories, heavy pollution and is also dripping in raw sewage sandwiched in layers of plastic. The taxi nosed down the road in the business quarter of Agra dodging black pools of liquid, refuse, street shacks , all the usual , then glittering in the weak light and heat steps out a vision in pale yellow, her sari floating above the sludge. This young girl is laughing and gesticulating with her friends, the three of them pristine. As we bumped past I wondered at them; just how do they do that? They were like fairies fluttering out of a dystopian gloop. Beautiful long plaits of hair draped over lengths of grass green, primrose yellow and white gauzy silver edged gorgeousness, all laughter and light, twinkling against a background of chemical and human effluent. Our kind but serious Indian guide is tremendously interested in us “Britishers” , he wants to know how much our schooling costs, what are British roads like, do I drive (I haven't seen any women drivers so far). So in the course of the day the questions are reciprocated- he seems more than happy to answer us. When I asked him in about the organisation of basics , like rubbish collection and road building, and the patent absence of this he looked at me with a mixture of bemused puzzlement. I tried again- ' Do Indians demand a level of public services- like drinking water, schooling. If this doesn't happen what do Indians do, make a protest of some sort? ' Our guide, who is an educated man, looks at me with a weary cynicism .' Indians pray to their Gods and they also ask the people in charge to make these changes to our country. But if nothing happens Indians then think that is the way of God. No protest, no right to make demands. ' End of conversation. Marble against a misty pale blue sky, fountains fizzing, green manicured lawns. We've reached the Taj Mahal, and so has a couple of thousand Indians plus a smattering of westerners. The event feels festive, like a bank holiday, big families, couples, everyone's wearing their best and having their pictures taken. The scale of costumes to gaze at was sumptuous, violently coloured sarees to delicate tinted concoctions, some so dazzlingly sequinned we were blinded in the reflected evening sun. I was hovering in the sidelines watching the crowds with camera poised trying to take clandestine pictures when a visiting group stopped and...

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Tea at the Imperial Hotel Delhi
Mar03

Tea at the Imperial Hotel Delhi

Monday 3 o'clock in the afternoon in central Delhi, 9:30 AM Monday morning back home. We are perched in the tea room of one of the smartest hotels in Delhi. A tiny bit of equilibrium is just nudging me around the edges. Out there on the dusty, car beeping six lane road, ( lanes are inappropriate, it's just the wacky races), seven-year-olds are selling balloons and roses, beggars hold up their hands on the car windows and whole families to go by on mopeds. But in here there is the sound of silver spoons tinkling versus trickling fountains and somewhere down a cool marbled corridor the Blue Danube is playing. Lemon grass and masala teas are served by a waiter from Passage To India. So why am I reeling? I knew coming here was going to be a culture shock. But I had to get here to feel it. Smell the pollution, see the child vendors dodging traffic, spot the woman in orange tearing up plastic with her teeth to add to her plastic roadside home. ( Inside the Imperial Hotel lemony aromas waft from my teacup and three tiers of cakes have arrived. ) I knew about the inequality and poverty here, but a lungful of sewage laden air, a blast of noise and acres of dereliction teeming with homeless people have brought me up short. I'm wondering how long I would last out here- would I get involved in changing the place or grow a pair of stony blind eyes. It would be impossible to be neutral. Back to the tea and cakes. I've been in the Imperial Hotel for about an hour , Paul is tapping away and reading up on some philosophy. We've managed to find our B&B, get just enough sleep, worked out the ATMs, bought a cheap phone and SIM card, had a row, made up after the row, been whizzed along in a couple of auto rickshaws, breathed in a hot wedge of pollution, been brushed by twinkly sarees and crowds of teens in tight jeans , rhinestones and heels worthy of Liverpool , gazed at packs of starved street dogs, stepped over sleeping bodies(?), fled from touts, shoe shiners, agents, chatty young men and so so helpful gents…… Tomorrow we leave Delhi. Mr Jeet , a twenty nine year old Sikh and fixer of all things, has bought us tickets for the next journey to Agra....

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