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January - India
Feburary - Thailand
March - North Thailand, Laos,
April - Vietnam, Cambodia,
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Wednesday, January 07, 2004
Cock problems

What can i say - laying under the stars listning to the waves lapping at the shore is the best way to get to sleep - what i can't stand is waking up to Alistair complaining about cock problems.

I'd better explain

The cockophony starts at about 4am and tends to stop when the sun comes up - this then kicks the dogs off that proceed to howl for at least another hour - not quite the awakening I was expecting in paradise!

However, despite the noise we have decided to extend our stay here and forgo going to Kerrela. We feel we have been on the move since we arrived in India and decided that we would use the time to recharge.

Posted at Wednesday, January 07, 2004 by allabaster
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Thursday, January 08, 2004
Better than Connex?

We heared an awful rumour that you need to book train tickets atleast 5 days before you intend to travel- so we headed down to the local travel agent. We fly back to delhi on the 16th and need to be in Chennai (Madras) to pick up the flight. Only problem is Chennai is about 2000km. Also upon investigation this journey requires two legs- Margo to Bangalore and Bangalore to Chennai. The second bit is fine- 8 trains a day, the problem is the first leg- only 2 trains a week!

We sent the guy off to book the tickets and kept our fingers crossed, luckily all was well and we got booked in for the 12th. For all you trainspotters out there (Marcus Im talking to you) the journey is going to take 24 hours and actually cost 1900 rupees for us both - thats just over 20 quid... I'd like to see Connex beat that. Still Im hearing rumours about the toilets on these trains that Im not liking too much- I will get back to you on that one.

Posted at Thursday, January 08, 2004 by allabaster
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Monday, January 12, 2004
kate vs Yogi - part one

Well having been a fan of yoga for the past few year i reckoned that i couldn't leave india without taking a few lessons from a seasoned yogi...

Having failed to find a decent teacher in North Goa you can imagin my delight when I was told that their was a yogi in Palomin beach that was attracting travelers from across India (well one girl had traveleed up from kerrala and the other had extended her stay by a month to train with him) - good enough recommendations for me

When i arrived on the beech there was about 14 of us and the yogi quickly asked about our exeperiences of yoga and wether we were 'ready' for his teachings.  We started with a vigorous snot blowing exercise (wish i had blown my nose beforehand) that involves throwing your head back and blowing through one nose while you hold the other in what can only be described as an exagerated nodding exercise.  After the cleaning of the airways we then proceeded into the warm up.  Apart from the usual flailing of arms and legs this also involved lots of standing back arches and omming, contoriting into the crab posisiton (you've done it as a kid - lying on the floor you put your hands back by your ears and lift yourself up - like if you where about to kick off into a handstand) and breathing as if in a frenzy and rolling between 'holding your feet in front of you whilst seated (as in a seated touch your toes position) to 'holding your feet behind your head following a full backward head roll (all good stuff but a bit ambitious - considering the fact that some people in the group had never done yoga before).  

One girl complained that holding herself in a crab position was causing her backache - the yogi told her to get up and leave (sensible i thought given the standard of the class), next another couple of people where not fully putting there feet over their heads and on the floor behind them - he tapped them and asked them to leave also getting considerably irritated (now i'm getting scared) - by the end of the warm up we had lost half the class and were told that they did not have the mind for it.  According to our instructor we are too often goverened by the body not the mind - we worship the body in what we eat and how we adorn ourself and have forgotten that it is the mind that differentiates us from other species - it is not their body that is weak but their mind!! 

I was of course determined not to faulter

With our group of 6 we moved into the mian exercises which  invovled a variety of sun salutations and other combinations of 4 or 5 moves repeated 4 or 6 times on both sides - at this point i think i am about to pass out (in fact I actually had a quick nap while i had my knees on my elbows over my head - or maybe I passed out - I 'm not sure) - 1 person walks away and another asks to leave.

It must be at least two hours in and i am left with the two devotees I met on the beach who for some bazzar reason are still smilling - I  will not be beaten and I finish the sessions dispite a searing pain in my knee and being told in front of my class mates and spectators that my headstands are wobbley because i am carrying too much fat and i should stop eating meat and cheese (thats the Atkins out then! -  at this point I cannot argue as I am struggling to remeber which way is up and the top of my head is begining to hurt)

We finish with another mass snotting session 160 minutes after we have started and after being told that he will teach me tomorrow I do feel strangle elevated though maybe I'm just dehydrated - i vow to return the following day

Posted at Monday, January 12, 2004 by allabaster
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Tuesday, January 13, 2004
kate vs Yogi - part two (revenge of the Yogi)

From my experainces yesturday I have learnt the following:

   '8 hours of sun + nearly 3hrs of yoga + 2 large rum and cokes = heatstroke'
   I am not bought into the 'we are not governed by our bodies, but our minds' mantra  

Spent night midly delerious in the communual bathrooms (who are now my new best friends) after dissing the Coccohuts on stilts that I have been trying to navigate by hopping up and down given the fact that i have compleatly buggered my knee

- can't keep anything up or down, got the shakes and really looking forward to the 24hr train journey tomorrow ..

... I conceed oh Yogi I am weak! 

Posted at Tuesday, January 13, 2004 by allabaster
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Wednesday, January 14, 2004

So we waved a tearfull goodbye to Pallolem and got a taxi into Margoe, the biggest town in the region.  We thought we'd have an hour or so to look at the shops/markets and then get on our train to Chennai. 

Margoe wasn't great- it was really crowded and the hassle level was very high- why dont people realise I AM NOT INTERESTED IN ladies dresses and jewellry (despite what you might have heared!)...

Kate had done her knee in and we were trying to mentally prepare ourselves for the journey ahead.

Eventually we got to the station- and managed to find a quiet spot in a cafe to figure out our gameplan.  I loved this cafe- there was a sink in the corner for people to 'expactorate' into- which they kept doing - loudly.  The guy came to take our order and then left- nothing arrived for over 20 minutes and when I asked he explained that he couldnt put the order thru because I hadnt bought my coupons (what coupons?!?!?). Anyway there is a sign instructing you to buy coupons at the counter- why he hadnt just told me - I don't know!  This is an example of indian beauracracy at its best.  More to follow.

So we eventually had our meal and got to the platform- it's getting dark-  and our train is starting to get late- suddenly an announcement comes over the tanoy...  Our train is departing in 10 minutes from another platform (on the other side of the track!)...  So there is me carrying both rucksacks (kate has a bad knee- remember?), fighting our way thru what seem like thousands of people to get to the train.

The train is really long- and we are booked into a specific carriage- which is miles away- and the clock is ticking.  Finally we get to the right carriage and board the train just as it is leaving.  Huffing and puffing we get to our seats only to find a whole indian familly in them- I start to get arsy and kate demands to see their ticket.

Weirdly it all seems to be in order.  They look at our ticket and the bomb drops.....

We're on the wrong train.

In our defence this was the train to Mangalore and we wanted the train to Bangalore.

Turns out our train hadnt actually arrived yet and this was still the one before.

So here is the situation:

- our flight leaves in 2 days - back to delhi
- there are only 2 trains a week which go the way we need and this is the last possible one
- we cannot get off the train and back on the next one

Naturally we begin to panic.

It is at this point that the legindary indian hospitality kicks in.  All the guys in the carriage (including the familly we were being rude to) basically take us inder their wings and sort out everything- they sort us out a new route- argue with the conductor to get us cheap tickets, and finally offer to share their dinner with us. 

We felt quite humbled- this is the side of india we hadn't seen- and it took us by suprise.  They were constantly reasuring us- making sure we didnt worry about our missed connections.  Even at one point they tried to get us a refund on our now useless tickets. 

It turns out this train had come from Delhi and these people had been travelling in the same carriage for over two days <i>so far</i>.  One guy still had a whole nother day to go aswell- India is a big country.

Once eveything was sorted out we spent the rest of the night talking about familly, politics and even hopes and dreams for the future.  One guy wanted to move to england, his wife is a nurse but he wanted to know -could he support his familly for 1000 quid a month?  I think he was shocked when we told him what things cost! Come the morning- after a really good sleep (these sleeper trains are comfy!) they made sure we got off at the right station and waved a happy goodbye.

We were back on track (if you'll pardon the pun).  Armed with my newfound knowledge of the india train system- I strode boldly into the ticket office and after only queing at three diferent windows (that beauracracy again!) we got a ticket to Chennai and were on our way within 15 minutes.

In the end we only lost an hour and our ticket costs (20 quid) but we had the best experience of the trip so far....

With twenty minutes remaining of our epic journey across india we were joined in our section by a man and his wife- they had the bunks above ours.  Since we were getting off anyway we said they could have our seats- which were on the lower level.  Again, we started to talking and they began to tell us about their son who lived in Chennai.  Soon enough we had to leave as the train arrived at Chennai central.  As we were making our way down the platform a young guy ran up to us and explained that it was his parents we had been talking to.  They had asked him to chase us and make sure we had his number- for anything from recomendations of places to go, to if something went wrong and we needed some help.  This was after only knowing them for 20 minutes- they sent him after us, rather than spend time with him saying goodbye.

Anyway back to the travels...

After a jourey like that (26 hours long!) we both really fancied a proper room with attached bathroom and hot (luxury!) water- so we sprang for a good hotel instead of a guest house- still only 12 quid for 3 stars!  Tomorrow we explore Chennai!

Posted at Wednesday, January 14, 2004 by allabaster
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Friday, January 16, 2004

First impressions-

Not as smelly as Delhi
Bloody busy
Maniac drivers

Chennai used to be Madras, but has recently had it's name changed by the ruling local politician.  This seems to be due to a desire to move away from the colonial names we used when we were in power

Chennai has loads of shops!  It even has a shopping centre and the first ATM I have seen for 2 weeks.  In celebration of this we immersed ourselves in western style commerce for a couple of hours and had coffee in a starbucks rip off (sorry marcus) and ate in a food mall!!!  We didnt actually buy anything, but it was a nice familliar experience.

How do you follow that?  Well - we had heared about a place called Marina Beach (Chennai is on the coast), it seems there is a market there and the best time to go is at sunset- so we hopped in a rickshaw.

When I get back- Im going to go to who ever runs Tussauds and recommend a new ride for thorpe park or alton towers.  THE RICKSHAW.  Its like a rollercoaster ride!  One minute you are curling into foetal position 'cause you think your life is about to end.  The next your trying to hold onto your lunch as the road is so bumpy and you are going to fast...  It's hard to explain unless you've been in one I guess- but it's quite exhillarating- I was pressing psychological brakes like there was no tomorrow and my face was frozen in what can only be described as a 'rictus of terror'...  Still they seem to get there in one piece...

Anyway - Marina Beach- picture a sandy beach that has half a km to the sea- put a single avenue of stalls between the road and the sea- populate the stalls with loud pushy traders and stock the stalls with the cheapest plastic tat you have ever seen.  Outside this avenue randomly put fortune tellers sitting on the sand, and give them lamps and 'fortune wispering parrots'.  Thats Marina Beach.  Its a nice place to see- but i wouldnt want to live there.

This entry's getting quite long... Only one more thing to talk about.  Chennai is in Tamil Nadu (the county).  Its only recently that this state has stopped its prohibition laws.  As a result you dont really get bars.  What you get is 'Permit Rooms'.  These are categorised by the following features:

-they have blacked out windows
-the lights inside are so low you cannot read the menu
-there is a TV on so loud that you cannot hear the person next to you

We spent the evening in one of these...  Drinking kingfisher and cocktails and eating so may free barsnacks that we didnt need to order dinner- they kept brining different types of snack, at one point we had four different bowls on the table...  Would have been rude not to. 

Anyway we left at closing time after meeting some uninspiring (up their arse) travellers and just about staggered to bed.

Posted at Friday, January 16, 2004 by allabaster
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Saturday, January 17, 2004

After some panicy racing around travel agents we managed to book ourselves on a coach to Pondycherry- i had been a little reluctant to do this as my experience on coaches extended to National Express and searing/crippleing pain in my knees after about half an hour of travel.  It seems however that the indian coaches are cheaper, about 3 quid, and with much better leg room than we have in the UK.  Why is it that in a country that has an average height of about 5 foot 6 they beat us hands down on leg room?  Weird.

Anyway the coach took four hours and by the end of it I was fully aquainted with bollywood's greatest musical numbers.  Honestly they play the music back so lound on the coach that I couldnt hear my headphones- so sleep was out of the question!

About Pondycherry:

Pondycherry used to be Pondy until it was colonied by the French.  The name changed and the city was built according to a grid system.  Consequently you can still buy croissants and fench bread there- also all the locals speak french.  The buildings are all in the Fench style and there are loads of lush green areas- you just dont see stuff like this in the rest of India

We booked into a small guesthouse and went exploring.  On the outskirts of the town is an 'experimental comunity' called Auroville, this is the main reason we came to Pondycherry- more on this later.

The days we were there coincided with a religous festival called 'Pongal' - we tried to find out what this was all about and it seems to be something like harvest festival.  Everyone draws these intricate patterns in coloured chalk on the ground outside their frontdoors and on the sunday everyone seems to go out during the day and get REALLY drunk.  We felt right at home.

The guy who ran our guest house was a really nice guy- he gave us a brand newly done out room and looked after us loads- even went to book out return ticket to Chennai.  Turns out the owners of these places dont have rooms themselves- they sleep in the lobby on sleeping matts- makes sense I guess.

Anyway more about Auroville....

Posted at Saturday, January 17, 2004 by allabaster
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Sunday, January 18, 2004

Keen to sample all the different cultures within India - Auroville was always going to be on the itenary.  This 'experiential community' was born in the '60's by 'the Mother' and founded on handfulls of soil from 124 countries.  Today it is an expanding community with 90 settlements inhabited by over 1700 people from 36 countries.  Heralded as a community not based on religion, it takes its moral and spiritual guidance from the writings of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother's interpretation of his teachinigs into a way of life.   Many of these writings are concerned with providing an environment where individuals from all walks of life (read here 'cultures that don't normally mix '- see previous entrys for examples) can explore their own consciosness and thrive in a culture of research and experientiation (this is both of a physical and spiritual nature) - basically it sounds like the good old days of Introspective psychology - lots of time talking about life, how you experiance life and having personal insights into how you experiance it and then deciding what it means for mankind!  The purpose of Auroville is "to provide a place for the realisation of internaitonational understanding, peace and human unity based upon inner discovery and transformation of consciousness" (sounds quite appealling - i was definetly interested)

The Charter of Auroville (for those of you interested)
1. Auroville belongs to nobody in particular.  Auroville belongs to humanity as a whole.  But to live in Auroville one must be willing servitors of the Divine Consciousness
2. Auroville will be the place of an unending education, of constant progress, and a youth that never ages
3. Auroville wants to be the bridge between the past and the future.  taking advantage of all discoveries from withoutand from within, Aurioville will boldly spring towards future realisations.
4. Auroville will be a site of material and spirtual reserach for a living embodiment of an actual Human Unity.

At first look the place resembles a scene out of 'Logans Run'; piped music over magnificantly maniqured lawns and sculped trees spanning out into a perfectly planned spiral town design.  We were guided through this area in pursuit of the Matrimandir- the spiritiual place of worship for the Aurovillians (yes -this is what they actually call themselves).  As 'Logans run' is one of my all time favourite films  i am begining to feel right at home here and start to read Alistair the joining instructions.

The Matrimandir is absolutly awe inspiring - a gold dome set against the skyline and hiden by trees until you turn the corner -totally unexpected and added to by the imposed silence and bright sunshine - this gold dome tells you that you have arived in the future - on closer inspection the surface is made up of what looks like a million gold painted satelite dishes - we were led down to the site that also boasts a huge amphitheater and walked into the golden ball star struck - walking round and round inside we had no idea what to expect at the top - then -still in silence - we each turn the corner and get to glimps the core of the Matrimandir  - a crystal sphere set in a room of light (the sun is directed in via mirrors in the top and the room is compleatly white) - the site is quite spectactular and later we are told that this is a place for everyone to come and meditate / contemplate. 

In a bid to find out more about living in this community (I am now sold on the white room) we discovered that Aurovillians have their own views on teaching and shy away from tradtional learning methods and exams in a bid to develop the young person as a whole - they are also open to further experientation and support in this area (this could be fun).  Much of the 'physical experientation' invovles exploring alternative fuels and building material and innovative ways to harness the sun and water power or to increase the efficency of traditional power sources (sounds like there could also be something for Al to do too!).  In a bid to be community minded as well as individualistic, the Aurovillians also do a lot for the local communitiites - providing advice for women and building wells, toilets, etc as well as helping these communitites to establish and develop trade.  All of the work is of course for the good of the community and any enterprise set up by an Aurovillian are for their shared benift - money having no place in a utopian society.

However, to help us make a more informed choice about our new home - i mean to find out about how the Aurovillian's live - we wanted to know what were the downsides of living here.  Apart from needing to purchase land and the communual money thing, there are other difficulties that the utopian society has witnessed in its inhabitants; the first is that many partners or families argue or split up (explained as the struggle to find their own realitites and ultimatly their own road to spirituality that is not confined by others), there has also been difficulties in melding cultures - with a western culture clearly dominating dispite the majority of eastern inhabitants (a new developement that will represent the different cultural hertages of each culture is proposed for the Cultural Zone in an attempt to provide individual identity within communial living).  On the experiement side - there have indeed been some breakthroughs but the lack of recording and theoretical rigour has meant that for every two steps forward they often take one step back and have been known to reinvent the wheel more than once, which considering the money being poured into established research areas means that they lag far behind the cutting edge (the only true discoveries are now believed to come from the cross-firtalisation of knowledge across the sciences). 

Finally community working has been hard to establish due to Auroville attracting individuals who do not want to be confined by processes or structures - as a result policies and ideas that could move the community forward have been hard to make due to non-attendance of Aurovillians at meetings and a simultaneous desire not to be dictated to!  It is clear that holding Auroville together and living up to its founding vision have been hard, if not impossible.  Still not self-sufficent ,support from many international nations helps this experiment continue and provides encouragement to its people.

Clearly upon closer inspection living the Aurovill dream hasn't quite panned out in practice.  For us the thought of rich kids 'finding themsleves', soaring temperatures and physical labour made us think twice about packing up our lives just yet...they also said that we could not stay in the white room, that there were no silver suits and it seems too hot for thigh highs 

On a serious note this is a really intreasting place to visit and i wish we'd had longer - maybe we'll come back and stay for a couple weeks in one of it's Ashrams - though the desire to stay seems to disipate the further away you get from the Matrimandir....

If you feel the pull check out www.auroville.org


Posted at Sunday, January 18, 2004 by allabaster
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Monday, January 19, 2004
Indian Tour!

Arrived back in Delhi today and embarked on our tour of the Golden Triangle.  Over the next 6 days we will be seeing:

Delhi (again)

Posted at Monday, January 19, 2004 by allabaster
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Back in Delhi

So we arrived back in delhi last night and weren't too thrilled about it. From the heat and fun of the south the cold and fog of the north- we needed some cheering up.  The guide book had some recomendations for restaurants and we picked one called Rodeo- I dont think its possible to be miserable whilst easting mexican food!

The thing with India is that it does have a whole range of cuisines to try- the problem is that they dont always get it quite right.  I mean you can go to an italian restaurant and order a pizza- and it will arrive looking ok, but when you eat it it becomes apparent that the chef has never had a proper pizza in real life, he's only read about them in books.  Its little things that you notice and this 'Rodeo' was no exception.  Examples:

-on the way in you go thru the swish-swish doors (like in westerns), but they open into the place side ways- so no one can see you (cant imagine John Wayne walking into a saloon like that)
-the waiters are all locals dressed in cowboy outfits- but they look more gay than rough
-the music is a meddley of musak versions of late 90's chart hits (mostly the venga boys)

Personally I loved it.  The waiter made the mistake of telling kate that she couldn't order one dish because it was 'too hot'.  This was like a red rag to a bull- so we went ahead and ordered the hottest dishes on the menu and finishing them with out even a wimper.  It was also happy hour so beer was half price and pitchers of margerita were about 4 quid...  We had a great time

Delhi was actually quite a bit more bearable this time.  I guess we've gotten used to the Hawkers and the scams now and we dont feel like suckers under pressure any more.

So on to the tour!  It didnt start fantastically as no one turned up to meet us- but some phone calls later and we were met in the lobby by a fantastically apologetic gentleman.  We got underway about 2 hours late and as compensation the guy would go and book our train tickets for us (for later in the trip)- an ordeal avoided.

Unfortunatley we'd seen most of the sights before and most of the other stuff was closed, but the guide was quite a character- alternatley speaking of gods, then quoting Keats and Shakespear.  I was feeling guilty because I speak english like a native and couldnt quote any of the stuff he was talking about.

We did see the memorial to Gandi- an eternal flame where he was cremated.

one highlight worth mentioning.  The guide stopped at the side of a street and bought a fresh carrot juice- he offered me and kate, i declined (I have a stict policy on food bought on the street), but kate accepted.  The drinked arrived in huge glassed (about a pint) and the guide laid into his with gusto- smacking his lips as he finished.  I watched kate take a sniff and detected her eyes beginning to water.  To her credit she did try a sip.  Picture the scene, the guide is watching her - anxious to share his love of this beverage.  The vendor is watching waiting for her apporval.  Diplomatically kate herself out of the car to 'stretch her legs' and walks round the corner to dump the drink- unfortunatley both guide and shop owner follow her..  Defeated she admits she cannot drink it and hands it back.  Later I asked her what it was like- she described the smell as 'rotten eggs' and the taste as 'like fire'- just where the hell were the carrots?

Anyway- tomorrow it gets good- Agra and the Taj Mahal!

Posted at Monday, January 19, 2004 by allabaster
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