Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Happy New Year

Wishing you a great New Year and may this year bring you more than you ever imagined!
We will be spending New Years on a train en route to Darjeeling. The trip will take just over 24 hours. The funny thing is I should be at on the train right at this moment! We woke at 4am this morning in order to get to the station by 6am for a 6.40am departure. So we arrive at the station and it is already chaos we have no idea where to go and our train is not listed on the schedule so we head to the enquires counter and join the massive queue. It was probably one of the first times that I really felt people watching us, usually I don't notice it but today I was particularly conscious of all the eyes on us. So we finally talk to the man in the booth who confirms our train is delayed by nearly 3 hours. GREAT! So we thought we would see if we could find the tourist waiting room. On the way we encountered several touts trying to tell us that our train would be even latter and that we could change our tickets to another train... yeah sure. It was too early for the tourist office to be open nor the waiting area so we decided we may as well go home and wait. Our driver had already left so we thought we may as well get a taxi. Shekhar from Dia Vikas gave us a heads up that a taxi would cost about 400 rupees. So we step outside and are immediately approached by a driver. When we asked how much he quoted 85o because of the toll. We said no 400 rupees and we would pay the 20 rupee toll. he would not agree so we said forget it we will call or driver. Eventually he capitulated and gave in at 500 rupees including toll. That didn't stop him for asking for toll money when we got to the toll though. When we got home he asked for a tip as well. But we stuck up a deal saying if he waited until 10am he could drive us back to the station for another 500. DEAL. It is worth it for him to get the ride back.

We have been to New Delhi station 3 times now. The first time we parked there while we went to the markets across the street. For such a busy hub there is surprisingly little parking. The parking lot is about the size of two tennis courts. Cars park in rows as per usual and then the aisles between are filled as well. The car must be left in neutral with the handbrake off so the parking attendant can roll it out of the way to let other cars out. Picture a life size version of the game of rush hour. In Australia we do not utilise our bumper bars nearly enough for their intended purpose.
The second trip to the station was to book our tickets... what an ordeal. We hoped out of the car and head for the tourist booking office. Touts immediately approach us and tell us it is closed and that they cannot book return tickets tickets between cities other than Delhi. We are told we much go with them to a tourist office to make all our bookings. Undeterred we head for the office which of course is open and can book all our tickets. In fact there is a sign saying "do not listen to touts that tell you the office is closed and that tickets cannot be booked for trips outside of Delhi"
The booking procedure is hardly straight forward and is cash only in the form of US dollars, pounds, Euros or rupees. We don't have enough on us so we had to walk back out into the chaos to the ATM and withdraw a massive wad of rupees. After filling out all the forms twice and two hours our tickets are booked.

So the time has come to head back to the station...
We hope you all have a great New Year and will fill you in on our trip soon!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

   As I sit here and write this post on Christmas night the ashram the place looks magical as there are coloured lanterns illuminating every corner and every pathway that weaves through the grounds of the ashram. The day began looking equally beautiful as a thick fog covered the ashram on a very chilly and still morning. We had a delicious breakfast of potato's and vegetable stew with puri (a kind of fried chapati) - perfect for a cold morning.  
  After breakfast we headed over to the children's home to watch them all excitedly receive their presents of colourful new clothes which they eagerly changed into, though many had to change back into their costumes for the Christmas performance. Before lunch we all gathered in the circle to share the Christmas spirit with music and the Christmas story and what it means to us. The children were wonderful and so enthusiastic with their performances and when they followed along in prayer their voices were so loud and strong. I will attach many photos when we get back to Delhi but they will not capture the true feeling of the moments; I wish a photo could also capture sound and spirit of the moment it portrays.
   For lunch the volunteers chose to serve the staff and patients. The badminton court was lined with mats and the food was served onto disposable plates formed from leaves. The volunteers made their way through the rows serving the food from enormous buckets that were regularly refilled from even more enormous saucepans. The food was not the normal ashram food but rather was brought and cooked by caterers. There was a paneer and vegetable curry as well as a chicken curry and just for Christmas sweets of gulub juman and these amazing balls of a kind of a sweet curdled milk (I must find out the name). The dishes where so spicy and it was great to see Hunter having a go and eating the chicken and paneer.
   The afternoon was a time for everyone to relax after such a nice meal. Sam and Hunter played badminton most of the afternoon while Ray and I spent time with some of the volunteers and patients. Just before afternoon tea we headed to the kitchen to see how chai is made for a hundred people. The recipe is as follows-
Place 4-5 buckets of water in a massive pot and heat over a flame. Before it comes to the boil add a couple of handfuls of tea mix. Bring to the boil and let boil for a few minutes. Get a large chunk of ginger and pound it to smithereens with a rock. Then add a bucket of milk; boil for a bit longer before adding about a kilo of sugar and the ginger. As it boils aerate it by scooping up saucepanfuls of the chai and pouring it back into the pot from a great height. Then strain into several kettles and serve!

Although I occasionally drink chai at home its not as nice as the one served at the ashram... I think its because things always taste better when someone makes it for you.

  I have to commend Sam and Hunter on their attitude this Christmas. As a child Christmas is one of the most anticipated days of the year as you wonder what surprises lie under the tree. This year Sam and Hunter where happy to forgo their presents for the experience of being here in India. In fact they even gave an impromptu gift to the men in the ashram; when the old worn out ludo game finally packed it in they happily gave the men in the TB ward their fancy set we brought with us from Australia. They did this on their own accord.

We all missed spending Christmas this year with family at home - which we really love doing - but the experience and spirit here at the ashram is something that we will never forget.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Where do I begin...I don't know whether I should write this post in chronological order or simply let it flow from one tangent to the next or weather I should divide it into several shorter daily posts. So much happens in a week in India as there are so many people and so much to see...anything can happen. Take for instance today I glanced out my kitchen window and I thought by now I had seen everything there was to see in my little neighbourhood, but no! Today as my eyes wandered down the street I saw 200 sheep or goats being herded up the street onto the nearby field which we now call crap field (sorry for being so crass- more tasteful suggestions welcome). In India from day to day you never know what is coming around the corner. So how do I fit a whole week in India into less than a thousand words...

So Kerala. The purpose of our trip was to meet up with Jayson who heads up Shalom Trust which provides microfinance with assistance from Opportunity International Australia. But along with microfinance they are also involved in many other projects to assist people in all walks of life including the mentally unstable, the homeless, orphans and school children. The main project of theirs that we where interested in learning about is their affordable housing developments. We visited a number of their projects (I will upload a slideshow named Shalom shortly) including their housing projects, mental health facility and the beautiful new school. We had a great time at the school talking to the School Dean who was interested in gleaning as much information as possible from us about our experience with Sam and Hunters school. We met groups of children as well who were very excited and loved to pose for photographs and talk with us in very good English which they learn at school. I might add here that the language they speak in Kerala is Malayalam and I am telling you I have never heard such a complex language spoken - it makes learning English and even Hindi look like a walk in the park. The acrobatics they perform with their tongues to make the most unusual sounds and pronunciations is extraordinary. 
  Ray who is putting together a blog post for the project will share more about Shalom and their work soon. I will add however that the school is keen to have some input from Australian teachers who might be able to do volunteer work at the school. Ray is working with Jayson to look at packaging up some sort of program that may involve expenses being covered - if you know anyone who may be interested please let me know and I will make the appropriate connections.

In India Ayurveda is the traditional system of medicine. It incorporates herbal medicine, nutrition and other therapies in a holistic approach to health. Kerala itself is the Ayurvedic capital of India and I can assure you traditional allopathic doctors are few and far between. As it happened Sam had an asthma exacerbation while we were in Kerala as he had a bit of a cold. As it was getting out of hand I made a call to our doctor in Sydney for some advice on how much corticosteroids I could give him to keep on top of things. He suggested I find out about local medical facilities just to be safe but I had to explain that I was not sure I would find any and even if I asked I would more likely be led to an Ayurvedic practitioner as they are all considered doctors. As it was, by the morning Sam had turned the corner and was improving. Knowing he was on the mend I took the recommendation to have him seen by Jayson's family ayurvedic doctor. As I have a keen interest in learning more about Ayurveda we booked an appointment for Hunter as well who had been having a bit of trouble with blocked ears. So after an interesting consultation with all manner of diagnostics, Sam was prescribed a vegetarian diet and 3 litres of liquid herbs and several pills and capsules which should last about a month. Hunter who was referred to as "baby Hunter" also received a prescription though not quite as intense as Sam's. We were fortunate to have Jayson's engineer, Nambiar, with us who has great knowledge of the Ayurvedic system and acted as translator. There are however not accurate english translations for the many different herbs and plants they use so I was limited in how much I could learn about the herbs that were prescribed. It was an interesting experience none the less.

On our last night in Palakkad, Jayson had us over for dinner at his home with his family. What a wonderful experience! His family served us dinner and allowed us to sit around the dining table to enjoy the food as they continued to serve us. Ray asked Jayson whether they were going to sit and join us, to which Jayson replied that is was their privelage to serve us! Again the food was delicious. After dinner, we all sat in the living room and were informed that they would sing to us a song and that they would like for us to sing one in return. They sang a beautiful hymn in Malayalam. There were 9 of them that sang, and only Ray who sings in our family, although Sam piped up and said that he would sing to help Dad. For those of you who know Ray, he is terrible with words and at loss with out his guitar and was unable to recall a song to sing in reply! We settled with Ray praying for the family and Shalom Trust.

On our last day in Palakkad before heading to the coast we took the opportunity to cross the border into the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to visit a wildlife park. We left out hotel in Palakkad at 5.30am and headed further inland. By this stage the spicy food I had been eating all week was making its presence felt and I had to make a few unscheduled stops at some rather interesting public restrooms. As you may know most of the world actually squats to use the bathroom which I don't have a problem with at all, it actually makes perfect sense really and is no doubt the way nature intended. However I can't quite bring myself to go about toileting without toilet paper. I even googled "how to use a squat toilet" so I understood the process from start to finish sans toilet paper. However no matter how much I read about using water and my hand, mentally I just cant get myself there. Even the hotel we stayed at which was a "3 star hotel with 5 star facilities" did not readily supply toilet paper. It was quite entertaining watching Ray on the phone to housekeeping trying to explain what he was after and being repeatedly hung up on. Even more amusing was the size of the roll when it arrived. They gave us two new rolls which where about a quarter of the diameter of a normal roll. needless to say we were constantly having to order more due to our current regularity. OK... back to the safari... we entered the wildlife park early and made it to the final checkpoint where we were told we could not proceed until there where 13 passengers to fill the safari bus. As it was there was us and 2 Swiss tourists and a very remote chance that anyone else would show up. So the ranger extorted a couple of thousand extra rupees off us to pay for the empty seats. After we where on the bus we did enjoy a pleasant few hours enjoying the beautiful scenery and spotting the amazing wildlife. Unfortunately we did not see any elephants or the elusive tigers but it was still a wonderful experience. We did see a couple of elephants on our way out of the wildlife park though they were safari elephants that looked a little worse for wear and I am now somewhat pleased that we did not do the elephant back safari we had planned to do.

Taj Hotel
Before we left Palakkad Jayson very kindly organised for us to stay a night at the Taj hotel which is a beautiful hotel near the coast of Kerala. We had a wonderful stay and it was the first time we got to enjoy a swim since leaving Australia. Ray also indulged in an Ayurvedic massage before we enjoyed dinner at the hotel outdoor seafood BBQ/Grill restaurant overlooking the water. The theme of the restaurant was mainly grills with salads and of course Keralan cuisine. The choice of seafood's and meats was limitless and normally I could eat my weight in prawns, however as we have been virtual vegetarians for the last three weeks I could barely eat more than 4 prawns and a small piece of fish. The food in all was delicious and it was great to enjoy cool fresh salads again and fruit for desert. Breakfast was also a buffet with all the normal fare as well as the ubiquitous curries. Although it was great to have a 24 hour holiday from spicy foods we are once again paying a price for it with out digestive systems. If the curries made us regular the western fare did quite the opposite. It is amazing how quickly your body can shift into accepting a new way of eating, I am actually looking forward to getting back to dahl maharani, palak paneer and aloo gobi.

Kerala backwaters
How can words describe the experience of hiring a houseboat and spending a day and night on the Kerala backwaters. Before leaving Australia I had never even heard of this type of holiday but once in India whenever we mentioned to someone we were going to Kerela the first question was "are you hiring a houseboat?". So when we headed down we had this in our mind as something we should perhaps try to fit in. As it was Jayson once again organised the whole thing for us. I did not get a chance to do any research on the trip so I arrived at the dock with absolutely no expectations. At the dock was literally hundreds of these wondrous bamboo, timber and jute cocoons floating serenely amongst the green water lilies which line the narrow waterways of the backwaters. We were led to our boat and welcomed aboard by our crew of three; the captain, the engine man and the chef. We left the dock shortly after sipping on tender coconut juice. Our not so little cocoon had two bedrooms with en suites a kitchen and the living area with comfortable chairs on which to sit back and enjoy the scenery. Our trip took us out through the narrow back waters and into a large open freshwater lake. We docked for lunch by the side of the lake overlooking the prodigious rice paddies that cover large portions of land by the Kerala backwaters and thrive on the water it provides. The chef was amazing! He cooked up mouthwatering Keralan cuisine including fish, chicken and vegetables flavoured with Keralan seasonings and of course coconut. Even Hunter is becoming more adventurous with food enjoying the new flavours and being far less fussy. Her taste for chilli is also improving. Today back in Delhi she even snacked on the spicy pappadoms which previously she found to be intolerable.
  After lunch Ray and Sam went for a swim in the warm water but I declined after spotting a snake gliding through the water. As per usual I was the only one who saw the water snakes on the journey and I can assure you they are not a figment of my imagination. 
Shortly before the sun set we docked in a small alcove by the side of the lake and watched the sun set over the coconut palms. All along the edge of the lake and backwaters people make their homes on the small strip of raised ground that acts as a dam between the waterways and the adjacent rice paddies. In the evening we took a walk along past the peoples homes and greeted them as they lived there lives washing their clothes, brushing their teeth and preparing their meals on the waters edge. They really live very comfortable yet simple lives in a very beautiful part of the world.
   After a good night sleep Ray and Sam joined one of the crew for an early morning swim. The crewman challenged Ray to a swimming race back to shore, a distance of about 30 or so metres and beat Ray easily. He then reveled he was a national champion! Ray was not impressed, as he is probably the only Australian to be beaten by an Indian!
After breakfast we meandered back through the backwaters enjoying the activity of the local people as they went about their daily life. I might add that I learned that a thin strip of a coconut palm leaf makes great dental floss.
  We could have quite easily spent a few days enjoying the backwaters and I would encourage everyone to add it to their lifetime list of things to do.

Well it is getting late and we are leaving for the Ashram tomorrow for Christmas. I hope to add another post before then but if time does not permit... Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


Sorry I have not posted any news lately. We have been in Kerala and have not been able to access the internet. We will be back in Delhi late on Monday and I will fill you in on all that has been happening as well as adding heaps of photos.

Be grateful for the roof over your head

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sewa Ashram- Sunday

As I sit here, back in Delhi on a Monday afternoon writing this instalment I am feeling a little frustrated by the Delhi power supply. It is 2pm and I am still waiting for my turn in the shower. You see, when there is a blackout we go onto back up power. This is enough to run a few bits and pieces but not enough to heat water or boil a kettle or use appliances that really suck a lot of power. After spending 3 days at a dusty ashram we all really needed a good shower. The hot water system only holds 15 litres which is barely enough for a 3 minute shower at best. We have a second bathroom with a 25 litre hot water tank but for some reason it is not working. So after lunch I went to have my shower thinking the water was hot not realising we were on back up power. I stood there waiting freezing cold for the hot water to come through but it never arrived. Hopefully the main power will be back on soon or I am not going to get a chance to have a shower before we go out tonight...lovely.

So... Sunday at the ashram, well for Hunter and I the day started at 4am when Hunter had a desperate urge to go to the bathroom. So we rugged up and headed out in the freezing cold to the volunteer toilet on the other side of the ashram. At this time the Sikh temple up the road was in full swing and their prayers or whatever they were saying were being blasted over a loud speaker. After this, little sleep was to be had until about 6am when they finally finished. At 5.30am Hunter had to make another trip to the bathroom... It seems the ashram food was a little too much out of the ordinary for her sensitive constitution. We thought it best she give the Sunday chow mien breakfast a miss and left her to sleep while we enjoyed our noodle breakfast. 
  After breakfast the kids and I gave Erin a hand cleaning out one of the underground storerooms. We sorted through donated clothes and other odd paraphernalia as well as a few worn out instruments. The dust  and dirt that had accumulated in the store room was so thick we had to wrap scarves around our mouth and nose to minimise inhalation. As we worked one of the young boys about 15 years old came by and spent time with us. Morari (not sure of the spelling), I am guessing is about 14 years old. He speaks OK English and has had a very hard life. His parents died when he was young and he was mistreated by his grandmother and other family members, so when he was about 6 or 7 years old he ran away and had to fend for himself. He was very sick by the time he came to the ashram due to his hard life. He has a triad of diseases including chronic hepatitis, arthritis and I think the third was TB. I believe that his hepatitis makes treating the arthritis difficult.. it is quite sad watching him shuffle around the ashram like a little old man.
  By lunchtime Hunter was starving but I though it best if she just had rice, even though she felt 100% better. Although there is filtered water to drink, it is not used for the washing of vegetables, cooking or tea. The food is thoroughly cooked so theoretically it should not be a problem but it still might not be enough for a sensitive stomach.
After lunch we found ourselves sitting with Renford the NZ volunteer. He truly is an amazing person. When he decided he would go to India to work at the ashram he put it in God's hands and said he would go but he would not fly. He set off from NZ by boat and sailed to Brisbane via Fiji. From there he hitchhiked to Darwin were he got a boat to Indonesia. Once in Indonesia he hitchhiked and island hopped up thorough the islands and into Malaysia and then into Thailand. From there he wet through Laos and then lost a couple of weeks trying to get though to India via Myanmar and Tibet. He then had to back track and head through China up and around Nepal into Pakistan and finally into the north of India. It took him 4 months, 6 pairs of shoes and about $2000 but he finally made it by land and sea to the Sewa Ashram. I have given you a very abridged version of the story... the adventures and the places he stayed (many nights under the stars) where all unbelievable. At many times during the journey he was ready to give up and hop on a plane and go home, but through the grace of God he made it and he knows he did not do it alone.
  Renford has amazing patience and spent much of Sunday afternoon teaching Sam and Hunter how to splice a rope. Sam loved it and insists we bring the old rope with all its spliced connections home to Australia. Actually it is amazing how much fun kids can have with a piece of rope. When I got back from a trip to the family home Sam and Suraj where having a great time... Sam would lasso his wheelchair and try to reel him in. Just a quick tangent... I don't know a lot about Suraj but I know his mother died and he has no father. When he came to the ashram he had spinal TB which was quite severe and too much damage was done so he is now a paraplegic. Being in a wheel chair doesn't seem to slow him down much, he will wrestle and play with the other kids and seems remarkably uninhibited by his circumstance.
  So the afternoon was great fun... we played Ludo with some of the guys including Rasheed who was severely affected by either spina bifida or polio...I am not sure... even with his twisted limbs and using a foot and hand together he is able to roll the dice and move the pieces. He is also very adept at using his feet to manoeuvre a laden spoon to his mouth at each meal and to somehow manage to drink a cup of chai. Seeing and interacting with people with such huge handicaps has been a real eye opener for both Sam and Hunter and it has been great to see them adapting to each new experience that presents itself to them.

 At 4.30 I went with Erin to the family house which is a couple of kilometers away to pick up the family for the Sunday evening service. Erin is amazing how she has learnt to manage the crazy Indian way of driving. It was good to see more of Narela and also the family house where an Indian couple raise 12 children. We all piled into the 4 wheel drive...no limitations on how many people you can jam into a car here. On the way back we got caught at a railway crossing... now that is an interesting puzzle. Basically for 5 minutes cars pile up opposite each other on both sides of the road...when the boom gates go up it is chaos as two walls of bikes and cars merge into each other... why don't they just line up in an orderly fashion on one side of the road so the oncoming cars can easily pass each other by? Oh well I guess it wouldn't be endearing India if it was any other way.

Back at the ashram everyone assembled into the circle, which doubles as a ward and a meeting place. In the centre of the circle their are pictures of Jesus and incense is lit. Music is played on drums and other instruments; worship songs are sung in Hindi. It is really quite beautiful as everyone in the ashram of all religions as well as the the two dogs- Mo and Doggy gather together. After some singing someone shares a story or about something that is happening in their life. After the service a special meal of curried rice, chicken and vegetable all mixed together is served. And for the vegetarians there is the most amazing paneer dish... I have never tasted paneer so good.

After dinner it was time for us to head home after a most enjoyable and productive weekend (and we increased our Hindi vocabulary). I will get Ray to share about his time at the ashram in another post...

There is still so much to share about the ashram but I will save it for another time.

Sewa Ashram- Saturday

  We started the day at 8am with a breakfast of sweet warm porridge with banana. The breakfasts vary somewhat from day to day; usually it is either porridge or a lentil dish, but on Sundays it is chow mien.
  After breakfast Sam and Hunter were keen to head back to the children's house and spend some more time playing and establishing new friendships. Hunter quickly started a jumping game with the girls and was continuously prompted to call out "ready, steady go!" It wasn't long before they were calling out to her "Didi" which means sister. 
It was orgainised that we would head out to a nearby field where the kids and some of the mentally and physically handicapped men and women would all come together to play ball games. A circle was formed and the ball was bounced, rolled or kicked to each person in a way that was manageable for them. The atmosphere at the ashram is very inclusive and everyone gives each other the help they need. The ball games were frequently interrupted by passing herds of cows with their traditional nomadic herdsman - it was quite a sight. The girls tried to involve Hunter is some of their games though the language barrier was a bit of a hurdle even with the help of Suraj (a young boy who is quite fluent in English). Sam went back to the ashram and got a skipping rope which the girls played with in a rather unorganised manner but had a lot of fun none the less. After a lot of fun we helped everyone back to the house and sat down to another delicious lunch.
   After lunch the kids had a play with the ashram bunnies. The bunnies for now are purely for entertainment but it is envisaged that in the future they will become a source of food. 
 We bought lots of activities to the ashram to keep us occupied while Ray was busy. One game we bought with us was Ludo which is indeed a universal game. A couple of the men joined us for a few games even with no means of verbal communication fun was had by all.
  Later in the afternoon we went to spend more time with the children. Sam helped Renford (a New Zealand volunteer) hang a swing from the tree. Tomorrow he is going to teach Sam to splice a rope. While the kids were occupied I spent time with Lenka (a German volunteer who acts as a social worker) learning about the ashram and some of the stories of the patients. I am yet to draw all these stories together so I will share them with you another time.

So another fruitful and enjoyable day was had by all!

Sewa Ashram- Friday

At 8.30 on Friday morning 'Hornboy' picked us up to drive us to the ashram. With our limited communication skills we confirmed he would be taking us to the Sewa Ashram at Narela. After about an hour it became apparent he had no idea how to get to Narela. After a few wrong turns and asking a few people we soon found ourselves heading in the right direction. After 2 hours of eventful driving we made it to the ashram where we were warmly greeted by the staff and volunteers.
   Soon after arriving Ray got down to work with Kaye and Nino, while Sam, Hunter and I had a bit of an explore. We went down to the children's house where we got involved in painting a mural on one of the walls. It was so great watching all the children and some of the handicapped men all getting involved and leaving their mark on the wall.
  At the ringing of the lunch bell we headed back to the main ashram and enjoyed a lunch of rice, dahl and chapati. At the ashram, lunch always consists of rice with some sort of dahl and filtered water which has a flavor that will take some getting used to.
  After a quiet afternoon with an afternoon tea of  very sweet chai the kids and I headed to the kitchen to watch the evening meal being prepared. About 15 kilograms of flour was being turned into several hundred chapatis. Making chapatis  for around 100 people is quite a long and laborious task utilising about 8 people in a very well organised process. The kids and I all lent a hand in the last step of the cooking process which is the final stage of cooking and browning of the chapatis. The evening meal consists of a potato based vegetable curry with chapatis. The food at the ashram is amazing. The flavors are truly delectable and I look forward to each meal with anticipation. The food is all vegetarian except on Sunday night when they have chicken, and a paneer dish for the vegetarians. Having only three meals a day with no snacks aside from a morning and afternoon chai is taking some getting used to. An hour or so before lunch and dinner I find myself starving; it is not because the meals are small; the portions are very generous and larger than what I would normally eat. Ray is having the opposite problem; because he is eating a regular breakfast he finds himself not very hungry at lunch or dinner. We where told by several people that we were guaranteed to lose weight while in India; but as yet there is no evidence of any weight loss and I am not sure that there will be with these high carbohydrate meals. 
  After dinner everyone pretty much heads straight to bed as it is very cold. Hunter and I shared a room and Sam and Ray were in the one next door. I insisted Hunter have the bed under the window as it had a mosquito net and she is a mosquito magnet. She was not keen as there was no glass in the window and there were about 200 cows and donkeys crowded outside her window. They literally put there faces right up to the window and a sharp exhale can cause the curtain to flutter. It took her a little longer than usual to get to sleep and we were woken a few times during the night by the donkeys braying and the cows scraping their horns against the wall. And every 5 or 10 minutes we would hear a sound like a tap being turned on as they frequently urinated throughout the night. 
So that was Friday... our first wonderful day at Sewa Ashram!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

How many bricks can you carry... on your head?

Standing on our balcony watching the world go by... never a dull moment. As you may be aware we are surrounded by construction sites. Just about everything in terms of construction is done manually. I have watched an enormous pile of rubble be moved simply by women carrying baskets of dirt and rocks on their heads; a task that has taken several days. In Australia it would have been moved in under an hour by a bobcat. Yesterday I watched as one woman ferried bricks from one side of a construction site to another. She had a wooden board on her head and a man would pass her bricks 2 at a time which she would stack onto the board. She would carry 16 bricks at a time balanced on her head! I am not sure how much an average house brick weighs but I am imagining 16 would weigh a lot. Her neck muscles must be something else.

There was another Indian wedding up the road last night, it seems that weddings are not primarily a weekend occasion. When Indian's play music it is always full blast; to be at the actual wedding it must have been deafening.
Speaking of noise... every night, it must be at about 4 am there is someone who walks down the street blowing a whistle and beating a gong. Does anyone have any suggestions as to why, why, WHY this could be? Local alarm? call to prayer? milkman? I might find it less annoying if I knew what it was for.

We are heading to the ashram for a few days tomorrow and we are all really looking forward to it. The air is cleaner as it is outside of the city and the food is not spicy which will be a nice change for Hunter. We will leave tomorrow morning and hope for a good driver and a clear yet scenic run in the traffic. I should explain...to get around we have been using a driver service;  Ray calls up and orders the car for a pick up or a few hours or all day. Most of the drivers have been great, some speak OK English others none at all. Last night when we went to the supermarket "hornboy" picked us up. This guy does not let up with the horn, all drivers use their horns a lot here but hornboy is something else. He is a young guy that quite frankly drives like a maniac (hopefully he wont be driving us to the ashram tomorrow).

   We discovered a new supermarket last night called Spencer's... sounds a bit posh compared to the Big Bazaar where we usually go. But really as far as I can tell it is no more expensive as the prices are set and are printed on all goods... actually, I found toilet paper last night at Sydney prices...bargain! Spencer's was not crowded and chaotic like big bazaar and was much easier to get around. All the supermarkets are a cross between a small Coles and a small Kmart, so Ray bought an iron last night for the bargain price of $10. 

  I forgot to mention yesterday that when we were driving back from the markets in Delhi we got a flat tyre. Rather than pulling off the road the driver decided to change it right in the middle of the busy 3 lane road. Ray served as traffic conductor while the kids and I stood as close to the centre barrier as we could. Several accidents where narrowly avoided...I am just grateful we were carrying a spare as I doubt it is a requirement here.

Sorry for the disjointed post...it will probably be a few days until I post again.
Until then...namaste

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

street markets

For dinner on Monday night we ordered in Domino's pizza (for Hunter's benefit- she is still finding much of the food a bit spicy) it was cheap by Australian standards for delivered pizza but not by Indian standards. I am not really a fan of delivery pizza at the best of times, though we all agreed that Domino's pizza in India would be a one time event.

On Tuesday afternoon we decided to once again go in search of some street markets. After referring to a few websites we headed into Delhi. First we went to Janpath in central Delhi where they have the Janpath & Tibetan market. We all loved it. The shops and stalls were full of cheap scarves, jewelery, brass, clothing, wood carvings and more. People coming up to you trying to sell you necklaces, peacock feathers and carvings. Bargaining is necessary (Ray's job- he loves it) except in a few of the fixed price stores. The first stretch we covered was a row of women selling amazing bed linen, table runners, saris, scarves and wraps; each one calling out for us to come and see. In the Tibetan section Hunter bought some anklets while outside a fortune teller tried to entice Ray. He said....Ray has a lucky face! That he is a deep thinking person that loves his family, although not many understand his way of thinking!...I am thinking that perhaps you could make this gerealisation about most people who are out shopping with their family deep in thought...

Up in the clothing market Sam bought an Adidas hoodie and a New York hat... the real thing...no really...haha. 
Ray's big purchase of the day was a trumpet... yes a trumpet (photos to follow).
I of course bought wraps and scarves...what else...I envisage myself coming home with about 50 at this early stage - I can't resist.

The street food is becoming more and more tempting, it all looks so good, especially the stands that sell the sweet potato's and the one that cells sprouts and lentils...mmm. Do I go there? Maybe next time...

After Janpath we headed to another market... Dilli Haat. Dilli Haat is an organised market where you have to pay a small entrance fee. Once again shopping heaven. We perused some amazing crafts and beautiful fabrics. Hunter saw lots of children playing simple violins...she was on a mission (oh the noise). By this stage Ray was starving; a lot of Indian places sell Chinese food as well so Ray had chilli chicken and Hunter a mild crispy chicken. Sam and I stuck with curry.
Hunter and I both had henna painted on one arm (pics to follow) the women are so creative in the way they can make amazing patterns from their mind.
Sam was fascinated by some young boys who performed with drums and dance and breathed fire... amazing performancs so if we go back I will defiantly bring my camera.

On Friday we will be heading off to the the ashram for a few days - we are all really looking forward to going back there again.

Monday, December 8, 2008

staying busy

Saturday we spent a quiet day at home catching up on emails, doing some work and eating curry. In the afternoon we were running short on water so we walked down to out local "departmental store" (think corner shop) and bought water and a few other bits and pieces. It is interesting to note how cheap some items are here such as bottled water, rice and lentils yet other items such a juice and toilet paper are so expensive. I am assuming toilet paper is expensive as nobody uses it here; I make this conclusion from observing the neighbouring field, where we see several people squatting in the morning with nothing but a bottle of water in hand. You would think that you would have to watch your step when walking through this area as 50+ people use this field as their bathroom but in fact any remnants are promptly removed by the many pigs roaming around our neighbourhood. OK, enough of that tangent... we also popped into our local fruit & veg store which seemed a little low on stock so we just stocked up on some very cheap bananas and onions to make dahl.
I am still trying to work out the people here in India, it is so different to other Asian countries such as Thailand or Indonesia where the people are very forthcoming with friendliness. When we step out into our street most people just stare openly with blank expressions... I do wonder what they are thinking. If we smile or greet them we receive a reserved nod or shy smile in return.
For dinner on Saturday night we decided to have some take-away delivered as there were several pamphlets in our apartment when we arrived (including one for Domino's). After we made our selection we attempted to phone through our order... easier said than done. The first 3 places we tried didn't speak any English or decided it was too hard due to the language barrier and not being able to understand where we lived. So we needed more options, google provided the answer when I entered "Take away sector 45 Gurgaon" There was a list of places nearby that apparently delivered. So eventually we got through to Saleem's takeaway who managed to take our order of naan, aloo parantha, butter chicken, chicken Marsala and palak paneer. Then the address problem, Ray somehow managed to convince the guy to call the caretaker of our building who speaks no English to get our address. 45 minutes later dinner arrived for the bargain price of $15. We grossly over ordered and the food has fed us for 3 days.

On Sunday after a breakfast of leftover curry we headed into Delhi for the day. We spotted our first elephant strolling up a freeway similar to the F3 with 2 riders on its back. I don't know if it was the backdrop but this elephant seemed particularly large... does anyone know if Asian or African elephants are larger?
Our first stop was the German Embassy School which was holding its annual Christmas fair/market. The ashram had a stand there selling some handcrafts made at the ashram. It was a nice market with some really beautiful handicraft items as well as German food. The kids enjoyed a slightly dodgy magic show and Hunter was asked to participate in one of the tricks.
We then decided to head to South extension to peruse the shopping. Our driver stopped at the government craft store (which we had already been to) and tried to insist we have a look for just 10 minutes... do these guys earn commission or something? Frankly its not how I like to shop, I prefer to get lost in an open air bazaar where Ray can haggle for me rather than some very expensive tourist shop. After convincing him we had already been there we arrived at South extension. I should mention that waiting in traffic often presents itself with shopping opportunities with hawkers selling  magazines, car chargers and other knik-knacks. South Extension was not really what we were expecting much of the same western stores that we have here in Gurgaon. What I am really craving is a vibrant bazaar with Indian cottons, silverware and carvings. So my search continues....
In the evening we went to a Christmas concert that we had been invited to. After collecting our tickets we joined a line that was several hundred metres long that moved painfully slow as every person was frisked and every bag checked. We just made it in before it was standing room only. They then proceeded to pack the remaining people in the line (another 200 metres by this stage) into the remaining standing room... No fire exits or safety codes here! The concert proved to have some very entertaining performances by some very talented musicians. Hunter and I enjoyed an amazing pianist by the name of Stephen Devassy who has the fastest fingers in all of Asia and produces some amazing music and unique sounds (well worth looking at on you tube), Ray particularly enjoyed the Punjabi music with its amazing dance moves and rhythms. By this stage Hunter could barely keep her eyes open so we left before the end.
On turning into our street after the drive home we found the road blocked by an Indian wedding... I am sure you are aware of how full on theses events are, but nothing quite compares to your Indian driver with his hand on the horn pushing through 100 men dancing like you have never seen behind a truck laden with speakers while the groom with a lei made of cash sits quietly behind the ruckus on a white horse... I was sure the horse would bolt when we squeezed by with the horn blaring, though it probably couldn't hear us over the music. I would not have minded hoping out of the car and walking home as I would have loved to have a bit more of a sticky beak... 
Until next time....

Friday, December 5, 2008


Yesterday we made our first trip into Delhi. Ray had a meeting set up with an architect to get an understanding of the development process in Delhi and India generally. Another colleague of the architect joined us for lunch and we all had a have very interesting dialogue discussing poverty, sustainable communities and some design aspects. It was very fruitful with further contacts and introductions being arranged for Ray.

  Before lunch we went to Connaught Place which is in the centre of Delhi formed by two rings of colonial style buildings. Literally, as soon as we were away from the car we had a person asking us if we needed help? Where were we from? etc. He took us to a tourist office where we picked up a map and got a quote for a 3 day trip to Agra and Rhajastan. We then continued wandering around looking at a few shops here and there. Delhi is very different to Gurgaon where we are occasionally approached by beggars; in Delhi everyone seems to speak some English and is trying to sell you something. Whether it be postcards or a shoe shine.

  We had lunch at the India International Centre in Delhi, the food was once again very good; if we keep going at this rate we are not going to lose any weight which we were assured would happen.

   After our lunch, our driver (who actually spoke OK English) took us to see a couple of sites including India Gate and the government offices. We drove through some of the nicer leafier streets of Delhi and visited a government tourist shop where you could buy all sorts of handicrafts - although not very cheaply. 

  After a long day we headed home. Our driver explained to us all about his village and life as a driver. He was 22 years old and the eldest son in a family of five who live in a one room house. He was the only one in his family with a job and earns 4500 rupees a month ($140) He pays for the education of his brothers and is paying back a 150,000 rupee loan to the bank which he needed to pay for an eye operation for his father. He hopes one day to be able to build a two room house in his village so that he might be able to get married. As a driver he works 24 hours a day and sleeps while he is waiting for people.

  I have just finished reading a book called The White Tiger, I believe it is on the bestseller list in Australia as it is in India. It recently won the Booker prize. Much of the book is set in Delhi and Gurgaon where we live (including the places where we go). It follows the entrepreneurial rise of a village boy to a driver and beyond. The book gives an interesting insight into the area we live and how things work around here. I warn you though there is nothing pretty about the story but it is a good read. Although Gurgaon is a "new" area it does not look new in the Sydney sense; it is dusty with construction going on everywhere and there is rubbish everywhere. Funnily, we bought an ice cream each at the mall before we went home the other night and as we were waiting for our driver I could not bring myself to drop the empty cup on the ground with all the other garbage... it just felt wrong, so I carried it home and put it in the bin...

Oh... I have added more photos to my facebook page as it is easier to add photos on fb. Please add me as a friend if you would like to see them. I will add a few more on the blog but it is a tedious process until I work out an easier way.

Phir milege! (See you later!)

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The end of week 1

Well, it has been one week since we boarded the plane in Sydney, and what a week it has been. So much to take in and so many new experiences. We have settled into a bit of a routine now that our body clocks have adjusted. We wake at 7.30am when the maid arrives (I hate referring to her as "the maid" ...as soon as I work out some simple conversation skills I will enquire about her name), we check our emails, turn the hot water on, have breakfast and then a shower. We tend to spend much of the early part of the day at home researching, reading or studying. The kids keep themselves entertained with games, piano, reading, writing a journal and tallying the number of blackouts we have (there were about 6 yesterday). In the afternoon we head out to a shopping centre to eat and buy any supplies we need. The other night we made the mistake of heading out to dinner at about 6pm to the business district to go to a nice restaurant for dinner... never drive into the business district during rush hour... It took us over an hour to get there (should have been less than 10 minutes). As I have mentioned earlier the traffic is chaos at the best of times. What astounded me most is that there is no such thing as a clearway during peak times, cars were parked anywhere they like. We eventually made it to the restaurant named Punjabi by Nature. Great food and ambiance but very expensive by Indian standards. Hunter is still having problems with finding foods to eat simply because everything is so spicy, but she is starting to get used to a little bit of heat.
  One problem that I forgot to mention earlier is mosquitoes, because it is winter and a bit cool I didn't think they would be a problem, but in the evenings they are out in force. The kids have been bitten quite a few times despite wearing long pants and sleeves to bed and dousing them in repellent. We have ordered some mosquito nets, hopefully they arrive today.
  We have discovered that India has the most amazing bookstores, we have found two in particular that rival Borders. The books here are so cheap as well - a paperback novel is about $6. Last night I spent about as hour in the health section with naturopathy books starting from about $2, I could have bought so many but I restrained myself and started with just two. Its not just the price that is amazing it is the variety of books under each topic. We have started more than a small library at home (I will add a photo soon), which could pose an excess baggage problem when we come home. We had to make a rule last night that no more bookshops until we have read everything we have bought already.
 Last night we ate in a food hall style restaurant in the bottom of a shopping complex ,that was recommended in a guide book. We can feed all four of us including drinks for under $10, so we have decided to work our way through the menu. Last night I picked something random that I have never heard of and it was great...you cant go wrong with Indian food it all tastes so good. I plan to work my way through the sweets menu too.
  Tomorrow Ray has a meeting lined up in  Delhi so we will probably make a day of it. 
Until next time... namaste

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Work Begins....

Na-ma-ste! (Hello!) Well the journey has now well and truly begun. The enormity of the task ahead has now sunk in and we spent most of the day reading, researching the web, writing and planning the next couple of weeks before we head back to the Ashram - which we are all really looking forward to.

We took the kids out to a few more of the western style shopping malls in the late afternoon and had a bit of a feed. I ordered enough food to probably feed several families - but it was very good. If I keep this up, not much chance of losing any weight - will probably put some on!

The kids are doing great. It is incredible to see how quickly they have adapted to this new way of life and take in the challenging things they are seeing. They are also very creative in keeping themselves busy while Lou and I work on this project. Sam has even taken a liking to reading! The books here a very cheap, so we have already starting building quite a family library.

Sam and I also had our hair cuts yesterday. Because of the language barrier - at the moment - it was challenging trying to tell them how we wanted our hair cut. I asked for a magazine, and they came up with 2 pages of male haircuts that took me back to the 80's! May work for some, but not for Sam and I. We hedged our bets and opted for the same style - short! We even experienced a blackout during the cut - interesting sitting in the dark with a man holding scissors still trying to cut your hair!

Lou also had a successful day in her mission to solve our clothes drying dilemma. There was no need for a drying rack, as our house maid showed us that we in fact had a drying room in the apartment! (what we thought was the storage room, however the screws in the walls were in fact to tie rope to act as a clothes line). Lou found the rope and we now have an Aussie style clothes line in our apartment. Next step for Lou is to try and convince the house maid it is easier to wash the clothes using the washing machine, rather than by hand - good luck with that one!
Well we managed to stay up till 9.30pm which should hopefully see us just about over the jet lag.

All is good in this wonderful, exciting, interesting and diverse country they call India.


Sunday, November 30, 2008

Settling In

Well we have just spent our first night in our new apartment; I always find it difficult to sleep well on my first night in a new place even when I am totally exhausted. Even though the walls are thick we can hear a lot of noise coming from the surrounding apartments and neighbourhood; slamming doors, barking dogs, honking horns, construction noise and Bollywood music are fairly constant. Ray and I woke up and were wide awake from about 3.30am which made for a very long day.
At 8.30am our maid showed up to clean etc. She speaks no english apart from the word soap from what I can tell (I am going to be so good at charades by the time we get home). It is becoming very apparent that we are going to need to learn some basic Hindi, so Ray has downloaded some Hindi lesson podcasts from itunes. At the moment we are heavily relying on the phrase book Stephen left behind for us, I honesty don't know how we would have got by the last few days without it.
We spent most of the morning at home unpacking and trying to work out how to get the hot water and washing machine working. As I write (a day later) the maid is here cleaning the floors which she will wash each day, it is amazing how much dust and grime builds up in one day. She did our washing this morning but rather than use the machine she washed it by hand. I have no idea how we are going to dry it as I have not been able to find a clothes drying rack in any of the shops and there is no words in the phrase book to be able to ask where to buy one. That will be my mission for today.
We once again went to the shops to have lunch and buy a few more groceries and bits and pieces for the house. We were dropped off at a big shopping mall but it did not have a supermarket so we decided to take our lives into our own hands and cross the street and walk up the road to one we knew had a supermarket. In Gurgaon the main shopping complexes are basically lined up one long street. The walk was a couple of hundred metres and it was the first time the kids have been confronted with beggars. There were women with babies, young children and the crippled who would all reach out to us and beg for money for food, following us for a while pleading, but we knew we could not give them anything otherwise we would literally be swarmed by people. After we shopped and were waiting for our driver to pick us up there was a little boy about 5 years old who was very dirty in old clothes who hung around and went to each of us asking for money for food, I was going to give him some before we hopped in the car because I didn't want to take a chance as their were so many other beggars around. It was very sad watching him go from car to car as they lined up for the car park begging for money. From what i can tell the people who give even one or two rupee's are few and far between, how they survive I really don't know
 In the supermarket when buying rice and sugar etc they are displayed in enormous sacks. You choose which one you want and they serve it out. We are probably going to need to get someone to shop and cook for us because seriously its just too hard to know what to buy and how to prepare it. We bought some pasta and sauce to cook for dinner but we forgot to buy matches for the stove so dinner last night was biscuits and muesli bars etc... we were too tired to go out and by 6.30pm we were struggling to stay awake. Around this time there was a blackout (so far a daily occurrence) which is when the back up generator in theory is meant to turn on within a minute or two. We have to turn everything off bar the fridge and maybe 3 lights, however for some good reason the generator overloaded our power box so there was no back up power for us (thank God Ray brought his head torch and Hans gave us a small wind up LED light). One good thing that came from the black out is that we met our neighbour who speaks perfect English and offered to help us in anyway he could including interpreting for the maid etc... The main power came back on after an hour or so so hopefully that is the length of it generally. All these challenges and experiences highlight how good we have it in Australia and how important it is that we succeed in this project. 

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Our Gurgaon Apartment

So today we moved into our apartment. We are in a southern suburb of Delhi known as Gurgaon; it is an interesting neighbourhood to say the least. Our apartment is on the 6th floor of an older block; the block is high walled and has a 24 hour security guard manning the gate. The apartment itself has three bedrooms, two bathrooms a simple kitchen, a large living area and several balconies. The floors are all marble and keep the place very cool..not that its hot at the moment...jeans and T-shirt weather and we don't leave home without a jacket as it gets cold at night. 
The guys at Dia Vikas (Opportunity's Indian office) have been fantastic... the Internet was on, the phone connected and they supplied us with a few basic essentials. After dropping off our luggage our driver took us to Ambiance Mall which is a large western style shopping centre with shops such as Marks & Spencer's, Debenham's and the usual clothing brands. The security at the shopping centre was heightened due to the Mumbai incident, with our car checked. We were also checked as we entered the shopping centre through metal detectors. Our bags were also checked.  The main purpose of the trip was lunch and power adaptors. The food hall was not unlike what you would find at Westfield's with the usual outlets... KFC, Subway, Mexican, Thai and of course Indian. The kids opted for a Subway kids pack but then I had to consider the salad as we were advised not to touch it... I rationalised that the tomato and cucumber would be ok as there is not much of outside surface area but I gave the lettuce a miss. Ray and I had Indian which was of course great... I couldn't resist the ice tea... bit risky but it tasted soooo good.
We took the kids for a play in a timezone like set up were Hunter showed us her driving skills or lack thereof. In the timezone there was a Charlie Chaplin clown interacting with the patrons...Hunter was petrified. 
We had no luck with the power adaptor so our driver took us to our local shopping district known as South City. I was expecting a small arcade type set up but it was a dusty street with pigs and dogs roaming about and a row of shops of all varieties. The electrical store had multiple types of adaptors - we bought just one to see if it would work at the huge cost of about 90 cents... I think I will stock up for future travels...

Late in the afternoon we headed to the Dia Vikas office to meet Stephen and the rest of the team. They were just wonderful - so helpful and inclusive. It is nice to know we have someone we can call that is local if we need anything. While we were there they organised a maid for us, as that is the done thing... so we will have a lady come to the house each day for an hour or so to clean etc for the grand price of about $40 a month...By this stage the kids were exhausted as it was 11pm Sydney time so we dropped Stephen back to the hotel and said goodbye as he was heading back to Sydney early the next morning. So then what to do for dinner and food for breakfast? We went to a smaller shopping centre and found a crowded grocery store and bought milk and cereal and a few other bits and pieces. Dinner we ate in an Indian food hall. The dishes were far too spicy for Hunter so she just ate naan, the kids were fighting to stay awake by this stage so we headed home and they crashed immediately (8.30 local time) 
Until tomorrow goodnight!

Friday, November 28, 2008

Sewa Ashram

After a much needed nights sleep and a big breakfast at the hotel we met up with Stephen; the CFO for Opportunity International Australia and headed out to the Ashram. It was our first real experience with Delhi roads and traffic. I am not one for long car trips but in India there is never a dull moment and the whole drive was pure entertainment. Drivers are constantly blasting their horns,  and from what I can tell it can have two meanings- "watch out I am coming through" or "get out of my way".
The drive to the ashram took about 1.5 hours though we have been warned that it can take as long as 4 hours depending on the traffic. The roads here are in crazy condition, we really don't have much to complain about in Sydney. There is road work happening everywhere and half built fly overs are a ubiquitous sight as in the half built metro. There will be no need to visit a zoo while here - I think we have seen it all wandering the streets... cows are everywhere as are scary looking pigs/boars as well as dogs, donkeys and monkeys.

On arriving at the Sewa Ashram we were warmly greeted by Kaye and Nino as well as the other Ashram staff and volunteers. Kaye first took us on a tour of the Ashram leading us though the intricate pathways that lead from one area to the next. She showed us through the clinic as well as the various wards for the TB patients. The kitchen facility was a basic set up where they have enormous saucepans that churn out 25 kgs of rice for lunch each day. During the day they try to get the patients outdoors rather than being cooped up in the wards. We met a few of the patients and heard of their stories (I will share more about this when we go back and spend some more time at the Ashram and take some photos). At lunch we enjoyed a meal of rice with a spinach and lentil dahl; it was really very good. Sam loved the food and hunter our fussy eater had a good portion as well.
We then walked across to the children's home which has now been combined with some of the old men and women. the children were beautiful and all lined up in a row eating their lunch. One story I will mention now is about a woman named Ruby who was picked up from the Delhi streets with her 3 year old daughter. Ruby was so unwell that she could not walk and had to rely on her small daughter to wander the streets to find them food to survive. The thought of this small girl wandering the streets alone is totally incomprehensible. Newborn babies are often left at home alone all day long without any food while their mothers are forced to go out to try and find work or food.
Despite the challenges that all the patients at the Ashram face - and there are many challenges - the atmosphere in the Ashram is wonderful. It is a peaceful place of refuge that exudes hope and opportunity for a better future. The team at the Ashram have done an awesome job in establishing an environment that is positive, a spirit of hope and a faith that starts to believe for the impossible.  It really is a beautiful place and we all look forward to spending more time there in order to understand how we can develop a plan for a new village for hundreds more people while lending a hand in the daily needs and activities. I have to say, that Sam and Hunter coped extremely well in their visit to the Ashram as they really came face to face with some of the harsher realities to life.

The trip back to the hotel was equally eventful as the journey there when a mouse in the car ran over Sam's foot and nibbled at his sock - for the next hour we all sat with our feet up.
Oh... and not far from the Ashram is the Delhi dump. You cannot comprehend the size of this place, it is literally larger than a Sydney suburb with mountains of garbage piled high. On the horizon there were people picking through the garbage looking for rags etc to resell. Swarming over the tip were thousands of birds, I have never seen anything like it. Oh and of course there were pigs... I think I will give the bacon a miss while I am here.

We were well and truly exhausted after day 1... Hopefully our body clocks will adjust soon.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

First Impressions

We have finally arrived in Delhi. The flights were great, very little turbulence and smooth landings. The only slight drama was when Ray's nose sprung a leak and wouldn't stop bleeding for about an hour. The amount of blood was unbelievable I am usually not queasy but I nearly lost my lunch and passed out; the only thing that saved me was the Bach Rescue Remedy pastilles... they taste gross but they work.

On leaving the arrivals hall and stepping outside the airport we soon understood the idea of over a billion people in this country. The drive to the hotel was an eye opener for the kids with the cows wandering down the streets, the number of cars and bikes and the constant blasting of horns.
The security was stepped up at the hotel after all that has gone down in Mumbai. Our car was checked inside and out for bombs etc before we were allowed in the drive.
I am sitting by the window in the hotel at the moment watching a cow stroll down a 6 lane street into on coming traffic, obviously it has no reason for concern as the cars stop and give way.
The pollution is worse than I expected, I would say visibility is not more than 200 metres. The haze is ever present even in the hotel lobby and restaurant. 
We will be heading out to the ashram today and are looking forward to getting a bit more of a feel for this teeming city.

Will post some pics soon

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The bags are packed… and no I am not taking vegemite.

The day has finally arrived and the packing is all done with one hour to spare.
Although I packed reasonably light (considering we are going for three months), I still managed to grossly underestimate the amount of luggage we would be taking. I am a bit concerned about this as it could hinder my shopping plans somewhat ;)

The kids are very excited and can't believe it is all happening.

Here is hoping for a peaceful plane trip with no turbulence and great movies...

Keep in touch...