Monday, December 20, 2010

No matter how far or how wide I roam...

A collection of things I did not know that I had missed after spending two Australian summers abroad.

Soft flooring underfoot
The sight of swooping Cockatoos
A warm breeze carrying the scent of Gardenias
The deafening sound of cicadas in Sydney's north
Walking uphill
A quality gearbox
Walking into a shopping centre without being pat down

The things I knew that I missed...

Summer fruit
The ocean
Clear blue skies
Dark clouds and thunderstorms
The beach
A car radio
Good food!
Smooth orderly roads and traffic
Long hot showers with good water pressure
Machine washed clothing dried in the sun
The colour green
A hot Christmas
Not having to worry that what I am wearing might not be culturally inappropriate... not that I wear risque clothing... it's just the little things
Family and friends
Girls night out

Saturday, December 11, 2010

A collection of life & lentil anecdotes from the past six months

Camel Safari in the Thar desert
Some months ago... I am thinking early September just as the monsoon was easing and the heat of summer was finally beginning to wane, my family and I along with some Australian relos hopped on a train to Jodhpur to see the sights and enjoy experiencing the desert from a camels perspective.
The overnight train ride to Jodhpur was uneventful... which is certainly a good thing if not slightly unusual.
I had booked a hotel that came highly recommended on tripadvisor called Devi Bahwan... which Hunter made up a jingle for, that will forever be imprinted on our brains.
The hotel itself had great ambiance and one of the best kept Indian hotel pools I have come across, but it had terrible food and the rooms were soso (please excuse the babble as I get down some memories for future reference).
We spent the rest of the day exploring Jodhpur which like all Rajasthani cities had a fairly impressive fort that overlooked a blue city. Apparently the wealthy people decided to paint their houses blue and then it just caught on no mater what your position in society... good thing too... very aesthetically pleasing.
For some reason we decided not to do the 2.5km zip line around the fort... don't know what I was thinking... now I will have to go back.
There is not a huge amount else to see in Jodhpur apart from a clock tower, a fairly impressive palace and a strip of antique stores. I have never seen so many piles of random stuff in all my life... could also be worth visiting again when I am on my own and have time to fossick.

The next day we all crammed into a jeep and headed out into the desert. It was decided that we should leave later in the day as the summer heat had not really waned that much. After a long lunch of weird and wonderful vegetarian foods from the region we headed out to meet our camels... I like camels... Great creation, such amazing eyes and beautiful faces. There were 7 of us on safari but we were far outnumbered by staff and camels... a seriously good outfit... would highly recommend.
So we set off like Lawrence of Arabia into the desert... though this desert was not exactly the Sahara with only sand dunes as far as the eye can see, rather it is a working desert with clay huts housing the local farmers who live surrounded by their crops of primarily millet and a surprisingly large number of watermelons.... they grow in the desert... who knew.
For a while there we had a game of mini watermelon catch... the first camel rider would toss the watermelon over their head and hopefully the camel rider behind would be in the perfect position to catch... we did have some success, but it was not a long lived game.
You know what... it is hot in the desert... and there is very little shade.... and sitting on a camel for hours on end gets a little tedious and dull. Nevertheless it was a great experience and I would recommend, though not necessarily do again.
Late in the afternoon when the sun was about to set we found a high dune on which we made camp for the night. Our fearless leader whose name escapes me now rustled up a great meal of dahl and rice accompanied with millet bread. While we ate our meal some musicians came and played... I did not want to tip them but rather pay them to make them stop. Thankfully neither was required... all part of the experience. On that first night the guys slept under the stars... oh so many stars... while the three girls went for the tent.
The next morning we had an early breakfast so we could make a move before the intense heat of the day. The view was much the same, lots of farms, sand and plenty of wildlife including some very showy peacocks.
We stopped under a tree for a delicious lunch and a siesta. When there was no breeze the heat was stifling even in the shade. As we ate and rested some kids who were walking home from school came to sit by us and stare. I am sure they were very disappointed by our lethargic performance of playing cards or reading.
After lunch we had our final 2-3 hour leg on camelback to our guides home where we would stay and see what desert life was like. The first thing I did when I got there was have a nice cold bucket shower to wash off a dense layer of desert grit. That night we stayed with our guides family and ate with him and his family in his home. The food was fabulous. I especially enjoyed a local buttermilk concoction over rice.
After the delicious dinner we set up our beds in a row under the stars... great night. great experience.

Taj Mahal... take 3
So the upside of having people come and visit is seeing and experiencing new parts of India. The down side is having to visit the Taj Mahal over-and-over again. I spared Ray and the kids this time and booked the train to Agra for the day and then onto Jaipur where we would all meet up. So it was much the same. Saw the fort, saw the taj, saw local craftsmen, had lunch and got back on the train. Exhausting? Yes. Have I learned to love Agra? No. The people are nice though.

Jaipur... take 2
So this time I booked a different hotel called the Umaid Mahal. It is a little out of the way, which is ok if you have your own car, but the building itself and the murals on the walls... lovely.
Once again we visited the Amber fort, however this time we were lucky to make the trip up to the elevated fort via elephant... though not without hoohaa and being totally ripped off. Ahh well, it's all part of the experience.
While we were in Jaipur we happened to see the Commonwealth Games Queens Baton Relay go by. Actually some of us saw it go by... Sam, Ben and Hunter discovered a fireworks shop and went on a bit of a spending spree.
The drive home from Jaipur was hell on earth. We were crowded into a car with no air-conditioning forced to have the windows open in some of the most hideous traffic of all time. What should have been a 3-4 hour trip took closer to 8-9 hours. At one point the road was blocked by some kind of traffic incident. Which soon became an angry mob scene with people charging down the street with metal bars and other weapons. Never a dull moment. Thankfully the police quickly arrived and the crowd dispersed.

Taj Mahal... take 4
So I am a sucker for punishment. Three weeks after visit 3 I hoped on the Taj Express for visit 4. This time I made the error of choosing to go on a Saturday. The crowds were hideous. We did manage to pick up a guide that was a well seasoned queue jumper though. He managed to somehow jump the line from about 200 metres to 20.
So once again we did the usual round... The Agra fort, the various craftsmen and lunch followed by the train home. It really was a nice day.

Amritsar- BIG fan
This time I made the error of suggesting we drive to Amritsar rather than taking the train... note to self... avoid all future driving trips in India. Take the train, much faster and more relaxing way to travel. What I expected to take 5-6 hours took 9-10.
So after many a car game we arrive in Amritsar and find our hotel... Good choice, thanks again tripadvisor. As soon as we had checked in we hired a car and made our way to the Indian/Pakistan border at Wagah for the border closing ceremony. From the carpark we walked a kilometer and joined the 500 metre security queue. The women's line was quite civilized. The mens... not so much. There was some sought of incident which resulted in Bobby (one of our guests) feigning a limp and then receiving special treatment... good move.
We had been given a good tip by a friend to head through to the VIP gate. Another good move. All we needed to show was a passport, however we had left our passports at the hotel. Thankfully an Australian drivers license was good enough as the security was impressed that I even had a drivers license.
On both the Indian and Pakistani sides of the border grandstands have been erected to watch the daily border closing ceremony. The very noticeable difference between the two grandstands is that the Indian side is jam packed and the Pakistani side virtually empty. In the lead up to the ceremony on the Indian side loud music is played and the atmosphere is party like. Jeni, Hunter and I even joined in with some of the locals dancing on the street. Good times.
If you ever visit it India, the Wagah border and Amritsar should be top of your list of things to see and do.
The border ceremony itself, though it didn't make much sense, was thoroughly entertaining. It seems that unusually tall and handsome Indian men are recruited to the army especially for this highly entertaining ceremony. I have never seen anyone lift their leg so high that their shin touches their face and then stamp their foot on the ground so hard... repeatedly too. The ceremony also involves much opening and slamming of the two sets of border gates several times before the lowering of the flags. Great performance. Wouldn't mind seeing it from the Pakistani side.
After the ceremony we headed back to Amritsar for dinner and asked for a restaurant recommendation from our hotel. They gave us a name, address and a driver and off we went. When we got to the address there was two restaurants side-by side with the same name both with signs saying they were the famous 'crystal' restaurant as mentioned in the Lonely Planet. The doormen for each hotel made such a ruckus trying to persuade us into their restaurant. In the end I am pretty sure we picked the right one. Fab food, great service and great company.
We got back to our hotel around 10pm and decided to go and have a wander around the Golden Temple which was conveniently situated right across the street. Great decision. We checked our shoes in at the 'shoe counter' donned a head-covering before wading through the foot cleansing pool. The temple complex is really quite spectacular and is certainly worth a late night visit. All though not crowded their were still hundreds of people about including many people sleeping the night on the hard marble by the pool surrounding the Golden Temple. As we approached the Golden Temple we could hear singing and once inside we could see the daily cleaning ritual in progress. Every single centimetre of that temple was being dusted and polished. They must go through gallons of Brasso. In the main temple room their is an enormous chandelier. Which is taken apart every night an each of the several thousand crystals is polished. The thing that most impressed us about the Golden Temple and the Sikhs was how welcoming they were. They were always happy to explain what was happening and encouraging us to see every room and every part of the temple, even when it felt like we were being disrespectful of those praying or reading from their holy book. We were told that after midnight once every surface had been polished that they would then wash the whole place down with cows milk. This would explain the unusual (though not bad) smell of the place and the strange slightly soft feeling the marble has under foot.
If ever you visit Amritsar, make sure you visit the temple late at night.
The next morning we decided to get up early to see the temple at sunrise. Not all that special due to the thick morning haze. Hunter was less than impressed when we got stranded on the walkway to the temple during a prayer time not knowing how long we would end up stuck there. Unfortunately I have not managed to cultivate in Hunter a love of sightseeing. I think if I take her to one more fort or monument she will poke her eyes out in protest. I have however managed to cultivate in her a great love of shopping... oops.
Next on the agenda was the Golden Temple Dinning Hall. Somehow we timed our arrival perfectly. Within minutes of us finding the entrance the doors swung open for the day and the mad scramble for plates, spoons and a place to sit began. The huge dining hall has several long mats running the length of the room. You sit on the edge of the mat and a servers will come by and serve water, rice, dahl and chapati (which must be received with 2 hands). Ray and the kids decided to skip the food. Hunter was still unimpressed by the whole expedience and Sam acted as photographer. After eating you then take your plates to a collection area where they are then scrapped and dumped into massive tubs. When these are full the plates are tipped into a long washing up trough. After eating it is then polite to serve by doing some washing up. This is not your usual washing dishes scenario. It takes a huge production line to wash the thousands of dirty dishes that pile up throughout the day. Ray who is quite fastidious when it comes to the cleanliness of cups and dishes was well impressed with the process. Each plate, bowl and spoon is washed by hand 5 times. Three times in soapy water and twice in clean water. So after surveying the scene for a few minutes we rolled up our sleeves and dove in. To be honest I did not do much of the washing but took on the job of moving the clean plates from one trough and dumped them in the sink of the next trough for further washing. Finally Hunter came alive. This she enjoyed... actually we all had a great time, who knew you could have so much fun washing dishes. We must have washed dishes for over 2 hours. When we took breaks we were served hot chai and bread and even with the language barrier people took the time to come over, say hi and make us feel welcome.
Sam took some amazing photos while we were there. The most amazing ones showing the size of the cooking pots the food was cooked in. No exaggeration you could fit a dismembered elephant into one of those pots.
So that's Amritsar. I hate to heighten peoples expectations of a place, but our guests put it ahead of the Taj Mahal as the premier must see attraction of India

Monday, October 25, 2010

Commonweath Games Delhi 2010

I have so much blogging to do and I am going to endeavor to catch up all our news over the next couple of weeks. This entry will be about our CWG (Commonwealth Games) experience in Delhi. As it happens I am sitting in the American Embassy while Sam is doing baseball training...incidentally the man at the table next to me has an uncanny resemblance to Jim Carey... anyway, on my way here I was an accomplice as Sam and his friend nicked a couple of CWG banners from light poles to keep as souvenirs. Sam has been wanting the rugby sevens banner for some time now and now he has it :)

I had been watching the lead up to the CWG for nearly two years and it was probably only in the last 3 months that I really started to notice changes in Delhi. The plan was that all the venues would be completed in March before the intense heat of summer and the following monsoon rains... but of course that was not the case and as luck would have it this year was the biggest monsoon in 15 years. You would not believe the amount of water. It rained several times everyday for 2 months without fail. The accumulation of water on the roads was unbelievable. We frequently found ourselves driving or even wading through a flowing stream of water with unknown garbage wrapping itself around our ankles.

As we live literally a few hundred metres as the crow flies to the CWG stadium our neighborhood was eagerly awaiting the opening of our local metro station which would be one of the main stops for access to the stadium. The station itself is underground and less than a week before the games began the ground surface was broken to reveal the location of the station and in true Indian fashion the metro line opened the day before the opening ceremony. You have never seen so many workmen on one worksite working 24/7. I happened to catch the metro the morning of the opening ceremony and the security was unbelievable. There was an armed army or police man literally every 5 metres in and outside the station.

The last two weeks before the games is when Delhi changed the most... Cows and people where displaced from median strips where new garden beds were planted. All the gutters were repainted, beggars at street corners mysteriously disappeared and large CWG themed billboard panels were erected to hide unsightly drains and slums. Ironically one of the slums I often drive by is established on a small but steep mound which is unusual in flat Delhi. The boarding wrapped around the perimeter of the slum did nothing to hide what was clearly visible on that hill.

On the night of the opening ceremony we headed around to our neighbors Jay and Ashwinee's house for an opening ceremony party. There were about 30 of us there including 3 of my family members from Australia. From Jay and Ashwinee's roof we had a perfect view across the freeway to the stadium. From our fab vantage point we enjoyed the fireworks display put on by an Australian pyrotechnics company in true sydney new years eve style.

I had already booked tickets to a few events in the lead up to the games but once the games started we ended up attending some event or another almost everyday. So on the morning of the first day we made a decision to go to the afternoon swimming session and watch the beginning of the Australian gold rush.
Even though we live about 20 minutes from the swimming stadium it was a wise decision to leave 2 hours early and even then we still missed the first race of the session.... Firstly because the driver of the shuttle bus from the metro to the stadium had no idea where he was going and managed to get lost and secondly because of the over the top security. It took nearly an hour in a queue for Leigh and I to get to the womens security check where we found thousands of rupees in coins and hundreds of pens littering the floor... who new you weren't allowed pens and coins into games venues. From the second day organisers had arranged red cross money boxes to collect all the banned coins.
The atmosphere at the swimming was great even though the venue was only half full. We saw Australia win gold in some great events including the mens relay. On the way out we were interviewed by a channel nine journo... there was slim pickings as far as Australian supporters at most events, thus we managed to score lots of flag waving cheering like idiots TV time.

For our next games excursion Hunter and I went with Jay and Ashwinee to the gymnastics. We had booked our tickets way in advance opting for premium front row seats. The rest of the stadium was largely empty except for the cheap seats up the back. That day we saw the Australian mens team win bronze and the womens win gold.
Heading home was more public transport chaos.... As the shuttle buses pulled up to ferry people back to the metro station the local people swarmed onto the still moving buses leaving all the foreigners bewildered. There was no order and people literally had to force their way onto the bus. I saw an English lady with three little girls trying to fight there way onto the bus and I have no doubt it was a frightening experience for them. The funny thing is once you manage to push and fight your way onto the bus the locals suddenly become very courteous and offer the foreigners their seats... ahhh India
While I am at it I am going to add one more criticism about the games and that is about the food and merchandising. Firstly the merchandising... there was none... and the food basically consisted of a chicken burger, a veg burger, a chocolate brownie and soft-drinks. Everything else on the menu was perpetually unavailable. Where were the chips, chocolate and ice cream? Seriously, the one and only food provider missed out on a lot of revenue for lack of choice... there was only so many of those hideous burgers I could stomach. While I am at it what happened to all the ice cream carts at India gate? Normally every night there are literally a hundred ice cream whalla's lining the road adjacent to the park with lots of families enjoying the park and the lights of India gate. Where did this wonderful Delhi institution go??? Ok, I am getting off my soap box now.

Sam went with friends to watch Australia beat India in the hockey semis and Ray and Sam went to the tennis finals to watch India smash Australia in the mens finals. It was so great to see the patriotism and support of the Indians for all their athletes even at events like the gymnastics and swimming where they were not even close to a medal.

We went to a second afternoon of the swimming where we saw Geoff Huegil win his gold and a bunch of other gold medals in a variety of events. By the second last day of the swimming the stadiums was close to full. As we had front row seats, two Australian flags and Ray a lairy green and gold shirt we got lots of airtime and heaps of friends from Australia and the UK saw us.

The highlight of our games experience would be organising tickets for 28 of the ashram kids and a few staff to the athletics. When I walked to the stadium that morning to buy the tickets the girl at the counter was most confused when I said I wanted 28 tickets... she asked if I meant two and then 8 and eight, once I confirmed I wanted 28 she had to check with her supervisor that I was allowed to purchase that many.
Incidentally, on my walk home I happened to pass a compound with a bunch of Australians working in the scorching heat mixing gunpowder and whatever else to make the fireworks for the closing ceremony.
So that afternoon with tickets in hand Sam and I caught the metro to north Delhi to meet everyone so that they could travel by metro for free. The kids were so excited and experienced so many new things such as; riding the metro, going to a huge stadium and even riding an escalator for the first time. It was a different world for them and they had such a great time. We were lucky enough to see India win gold, silver and bronze in the womens discus. We of course had our Australian flag with us and everyone helped us cheer on the aussie chick who one the 100 metres hurdles and Steve Hooker in the pole vault. On Steve Hookers victory lap Ray managed to yell over the crowd and get his attention which all the kids thought was cool.

Our final day of spectating was at the rugby sevens. In the lead up to the games I had been deliberately quiet on the fact that rugby sevens was a CWG event. But as we had friends arriving on the second last day of the games who wanted to take the opportunity to see the games rugby sevens was the only event of any interest. It was a good thing we bought our tickets early as by this stage a lot of events were sold out. I must admit as much as I am not a fan of Rugby it truly was a great day. We met up with about 20 other expat friends who all were Australians for the day. As our group made up the largest Australian contingent in the crowd we were on TV and the big screen often. Dav and Jeni received several texts from friends in Australia and family in the UK who had seen them enjoying their first day in India. At one point we had our very own channel 10 camera man in the crowd with us, filming us cheering like mad people as Australia versed New Zealand in the gold medal match. I have to say it was a gripping match as the first half of the match was so close, but Australia could not hang onto their lead in the second half.

We finished the games as it started... On Jay and Ashwinee's roof this time with a different group of Aussie visitors and the fireworks were equally as spectacular as the opening.

Congratulations Delhi on a wonderful games... but I don't think you are ready to host the 2020 olympics ;)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

4 months later...

It has been about four months since I have blogged and needless to say I have much to catch you up on.
My last blog ended with my travels around Rajasthan and Goa. At around that time I had about a month left in Delhi before we headed back to Australia for a desperately longed for and needed break, and to escape the growing summer heat.

About 4 days before the kids and I headed home we fit in one more adventure....

Rishikesh is about 5/6 hours away from Delhi. A five hour train ride to Haridwar, which was in full festival mode (a few million people had descended on Haridwar for a major Hindu festival- in fact 60 minutes did a report on it which I saw when I got back to Sydney). Apparently Haridwar is one of only a few places where nectar fell from heaven.
From Haridwar we had a 1-2 hour bus ride up through the mountains to our camp at Rishikesh. There were about 80 of us on the trip, mostly expats and a few locals.
Our camp was on the banks of the Ganga (Ganges) where the water is clean and icy cold Himalayan meltwater. We were in Rishikesh for a long weekend of whitewater rafting and hanging out. The camp was a great set up; tents with proper beds and buffet breakfast lunch and dinner.
We had two days of rafting. On the first day we would raft about 20 kilometers down the river to the main town of Rishikesh and then hop on a bus back up to our camp. It was a great day. About half way down the river we dropped the kids off before the river got too rough. They where bused further downstream where we would pick them up again after the adults and teens worked their way through the rougher rapids. It was a lot of fun. Even though it was about 40 degrees in the sun the water was about 14 degrees. It took your breath away when the waves washed over the boat. During the quieter stretches people would jump overboard and float down the river. I was not one of those people :)
Hunter and I skipped the second day of rafting. Sam and Ray went. This time they were bused up-stream and would raft back down the river to the camp after conquering 'the wall.' Only three boats went for this trip and I think only one made it over the wall without capsizing - that was Ray and Sam's boat.
It really was a fab weekend, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if i was not anticipating my trip home just a few days later. I was exhausted!

The last few days in Delhi were torture, the days dragged and I was spent. I felt like I had been on a year long camping trip, the weather was heating up and I just wanted to go home. I was at a point of not feeling like I ever wanted to come back to India.

The kids and I left Delhi to spend 2 months back in Australia and Ray followed two weeks later.

Everything felt so new and different when we first got home. So much had changed. It felt familiar and unfamiliar at the same time and for the first week I savored everything that I had missed... a comfy bed and bathroom in the next room with great water pressure. And the blaring horns, temples blasting out their prayers or the noise of a billion people. And the most exciting thing... the food :)
After about 2 weeks it all felt the same again. It was almost as though I had never left and I had recovered, I could go back to India again.

The first month in Australia went quite slow. We had a great time catching up with family and friends and I went into the office to work, which was nice. It was great to reconnect with everyone.
The second month flew by. Ray and I ducked over to NZ for a week. Ray was catching up with a few people and organisations attached to the ashram and I had a great week spending time with all the NZ ashram volunteers.
We had such a great time with Ruth and Jake, Scott and Sharlene and the kids and Jenni. After living with people in such close community the bond you have is tight. I am sure we will all be lifelong friends.

I was not a great tourist in NZ. I had been there once before when I was ten and I really just wanted to hangout with friends. We made one touristy trip to Taupo, where we sat in a spring of hot water that came out of the ground... I still think that is so amazing, that hot water can just come out of the ground.
I spent a day in Auckland with Jenni where she bought me a 'green stuff' pendant otherwise known as pounamu or jade. Apparently you are not supposed to buy it for yourself, but rather someone has to give it to you as a gift.
NZ is such a beautiful country. It is so green... though it did rain everyday we were there, so that could be why:)
The other thing that was truly memorable about NZ was the food. I ate so much and felt constantly full. I think you would call that gluttony.

Once we got back to Sydney time flew by until it was time to leave. I had my birthday with friends and family and had a weekend away with the girls.

Getting ready to leave for India again was a mammoth task. As always I pushed my luggage limit to the max. When we got to the airport there was a problem. Each piece of luggage could not weigh more than 23kgs. So the lady at the counter made us do a reshuffle. In the end she let us though with five pieces of luggage and about 15kgs over in weight... woohoo. This kerfuffle paid off as we were then one of the last people to check in and there were no seats available together in economy, so we got bumped to business for the Sydney-Singapore leg.. YAY.
We were on a British Airways flight with the new business class flat beds. The kids loved it... ruined for life. I have never been able to sleep on planes, but on this trip I slept :)
Our flight got into Singapore late, so when we got off the plane there was a buggy waiting to race us to our connecting flight to Delhi. So much for perusing the July duty free sales :( We only just made it to our plane and were the last to board the crowded flight. We made it, but our luggage did not.

We got into Delhi at about 2am and was met by our driver Gurudial and one of the ashram guys. It was good to be back. It is strange having two cities that are so familiar too me, both feeling like home.

After a few hours sleep in our own bed we got up in time for breakfast and stepped out into a typical ashram morning. It was the same yet different. I was arriving back in Delhi on exactly the same day as I had the year before. The 1st of July.
It was interesting to compare the difference in the ashram from the year before. This year it was so ordered and looked after. Last year it looked like a bomb had hit it. I had assumed it was the summer heat preventing things from being looked after.
It was wonderful to see everyone again and I think they were all really happy to see us too. It was great to hear all the news and see some new faces and the old ones. It was also great to see the progress that people had made.

I still have about a month of news to catch up on, but I am going to leave it at that for today.

It was good to catch up :)

Sunday, April 4, 2010


I don't know why I have been putting off writing for so long... its not as though I am short on news. We have been doing heaps of travel and I am slowly ticking off my 'must see in India' list.

Where do I begin? Well... my sister Julie and her husband Michael arrived in early March. There arrival triggered a very busy and packed itinerary of site seeing and travel.

Initially after they arrived Ray and Mike took off to the Anderman Islands to see the work Mike and Julie's church support. While they were gone Julie the kids and I spent time hanging out at the ashram and site seeing in Delhi. Up until Julie's arrival I had put off being a tourist in Delhi as I figured at some point we would have some visitors and we could do it then.

Sites we covered in Delhi included Humayan's tomb (an impressive precursor to the Taj Mahal), the Lotus temple and the Q'tub Minar. We also spent some time at Sarojini-the best market in the world!!!

On our site seeing trips Sam took over my camera and became our official photographer. He took some impressive shots and experimented with framing his subjects within the available surrounds.

During this time I also had to say goodbye to Ruth and Jake as they would be heading off on the final leg of their journey before heading home to NZ. Now that I am back at the ashram and into normal routine I really feel its not the same without them...blah.

One of the highlights of touring Delhi would have to be Delhi by Cycle. It is a tour company organised by a Dutch guy, which involves touring around the old city of Delhi early in the morning by bicycle. So one Saturday morning the six of us set off at 6.30am to be in Delhi by 7.30 to set off for a 3 hour ride.

It was so much fun weaving through the narrow lane-ways of Old Delhi just as it is coming alive in the morning. Hundreds of people greeted us as we wove through the streets avoiding cows, goats, dogs and poop. Our first stop on the tour was for chai not far from the banks of the Yamuna. As part of the tour we where supposed to go for a early morning row, but the pollution of the river was too bad; the black water looked so thick you could have walked on it. From the chai stand we visited the 'home for disabled cows' ... and that's all I am going to say about that!

We continued our ride taking in more of the sites of Old Delhi such as the Jama Masjid Mosque and the Red Fort. Towards the end of out ride we stopped in at the world famous Karim's restaurant for breakfast where we had there speciality of goat's trotters with the most delicious flat bread.

By the time breakfast was over Old Delhi was getting pretty busy and the ride was becoming slightly more challenging with many more obstacles and much traffic to avoid on the way.

Without a doubt bicycle is one of the best ways to see Old Delhi and this tour should be compulsory for any Delhi tourist.

For the rest of the day we did a bit more site seeing, picked up our tailor made jeans ($12) and saw a few more markets all in between the kids soccer games. That night we were catching the overnight train to Udaipur and I have to say with such an early start it was just about one of the longest days of my life.

The 12 hour overnight train to Udaipur restored my faith in Indian Railways. If you have been following my blog for sometime you will know that our first train experience was not the best- the train left 6 hours late, then the 24 hour trip took 36 hours and someone tried to rob us in the middle of the night. The trip to Udaipur however, made up for that experience- the train was clean and on time and with little disruption during the night. I now know the key with train travel is to take the express trains or fly!


We arrived at Udaipur at around 7am and took a rickshaw to our hotel. The hotel we stayed at was wonderful; even though we arrived long before check in they gave us a temporary room to use until our room was ready. (I have to say Trip Advisor is the best website on earth for choosing well priced excellent hotels).

The Lake Pichola Hotel was a converted mansion right on the lake. We had a lake view room with views of the Old City and the Lake Palace.

Udaipur is a city surrounded by mountains and is famous for its lakes and palaces. Udaipurs modern claim to fame is the Lake Palace appearing in the James Bond movie Octopussy. In fact the movie is played at 7pm every night in most of the Udaipur cafes. This was something I planned to see while in Udaipur but alas I am still yet to actually watch a Bond movie.

We stayed in Udaipur for 3 days and I loved it! Even though we were there in peak season it was so quiet compared to Delhi. I loved wandering around the Old city browsing at the shops, many of which sold the intricate two dimensional paintings that Rajasthan is famous for.

We did our fair share of site seeing while in Udaipur, taking in three of the palaces as well as temples and the views of Udaipur from the Monsoon Palace. As much as I enjoyed these sites the highlight of my time in Rajasthan was sitting cross legged in the courtyard of one of the simpler hotels having painting lessons with Madan. I had a 2-3 hour lesson each day with one of the kids joining me on alternate days. If I was really organised I would take some photos of the finished product and attach it to the blog but alas I am not :)


From Udaipur we took another overnight train to Jaipur; the capital of Rajashtan. Once again we got in early and took a rickshaw to our hotel. The hotel was cheap yet wonderful... another credit to Trip Advisor.

After breakfast we walked from our hotel to the pink walled old city of Jaipur. Jaipur was not really what I had expected; although it has a long history, it does not feel as old as Delhi or Agra. We spent the morning exploring the City Palace and wandering through the old city spotting camels and the occasional elephant (all tame). That afternoon after a short siesta we drove out to the Amber to see the fort. Our driver, Gurdial had driven down from Delhi that morning and was spending the rest of the trip with us. He is such a great guy and enjoyed seeing the sites of his country as much as we did, albeit for a tenth of the price...but fair is fair.

Ray nearly made the trip very costly for Gurdial after he told him to keep driving when the police tried to pull us over because Ray was not wearing his seat belt. As it was we had to do a U-turn and the police pulled us over on our way back. After much hoohaa Ray (once again) got out of a fine and we were on our way.

Don't ask me how many forts I have seen in India, but the Amber fort was by far one of the more impressive. At the Amber fort I hired a guide; he pointed out lots of interesting details and explained to us what it would have looked like back in the day with its thick rugs, velvet curtains and ornate furnishings.

If you are ever after a guide don't ask me to pick one... our guide at Amber was about 100 years old and had to sit down when he spoke as he was breathless from emphysema.

We spent one night in Jaipur and the next morning we headed off early for Agra.


So this was my second trip to Agra and hopefully my last. Although the city has some fairly impressive history and monuments I don't like it. It is dirty chaotic and certainly not what you would expect from a city that is raking in a tonne of money for one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the world. Also, avoiding the numerous touts and people trying to sell you hunks of marble becomes unbearable in a very short time.

The first thing we did on arriving in Agra was head straight for the Taj Mahal. Last time I visited was during November when it was far less crowded and not nearly as hot. We did not find a guide so I did my best at showing Julie and Michael some of the more interesting features and telling the what history I could from memory.

Once again we had fun taking lots of crazy photos and just enjoying the sight.

After the Taj we checked into our hotel and had a quick bite before heading out to see the Agra fort. Last time at the fort I did not have a guide and I felt that we missed out on some of the key features and history. This time we had a great guide (engaged by Ray) who took us through the fort and pointed out many of the things we had simply overlooked last time.

A guide is a must if you ever go to the Agra Fort. I was hoping he would be able to sneak us into the closed to the public mirrored bathroom, but as there was no guard on duty to unlock it (for a small fee) we could only peer through some very small and dirty windows :(

As much as I don't like Agra with all its hassles and touts our Agra Fort guide was fantastic and the cycle rickshaw wallahs were honest, interesting and helpful.

After staying overnight in Agra we headed back to Delhi. The chaos and traffic that welcomed us was particularly horrendous.

We stayed one night in Delhi before flying out to Goa at midday the next day.


We were allso looking forward to this week away in Goa, especially after such a full on schedule. During our time in Goa we were not tourists but rather just enjoyed reading by the pool, walking to the beach for a quick swim and eating much missed seafood. I managed to eat seafood everyday while I was in Goa, but was a little disappointed that all the prawns were grilled or fried.... I really miss vivid orange and white chilled prawns.

After a few days of being extremely lazy Ray, Sam, Hunter and I decided to head out of the resort and explore a bit more of Goa. We hired a couple of motor scooters and headed north to explore the coast line, Hunter was my pillion passenger and Sam with Ray. It has been ages since I last rode a scooter and I had forgotten how much fun it is, especially in a place like Goa where the roads are flat and winding and shaded by hundreds of palm trees. I would hate to ride a scooter around chaotic Delhi but Goa felt like being in another country.

After some time exploring and enjoying the ride we pulled into one of the northern beaches for a swim. It was a little different from the beach where we were staying, with a lot more Indian tourists, rather than the multitude of Russians. There was even a cow sunbathing on the beach :)

From the beach we started heading back to our hotel. Along the way we pulled into a hair salon so Sam could get a haircut. The advertised price for a haircut was 20 rupees (50 cents)... even cheaper than Delhi. Ray felt bad and payed $1.

We managed to get a little lost on the way back to the resort, but were rescued by Google maps... got to love it.

Not much else to report on our time in Goa. Except perhaps that I would not necessarily recommend it to Australians as a beachside resort holiday destination. Australia's beaches are by far nicer and if you are looking for an OS beach holiday Indonesia, Malaysia or Thailand would be the go. So, would I go to Goa again if I was desperate to see the ocean while in India?....probably not, next time perhaps we will try Sri Lanka.

Back to Delhi

We have been back in Delhi and the ashram for a week now and the weather is really hotting up. Each day sees temperatures in the late 30s, dropping to the early 20s overnight. By next week the temperature will hit the 40s and the night-time reprieve will no longer occur. I think we have made the right decision to head home for the two hottest months of the year.

Potentially this could be my last blog for sometime. Frankly I have lost my writing verve and am finding it difficult to write about life at the ashram. Also I doubt I will have time to fit another blog in between rafting in Rishikesh and heading home. So until early July...


Friday, March 5, 2010

Happy Holi

On Monday I experienced my first Holi in India. Holli which is also called the festival of colours, is a spring festival celebrated by Hindus. The festival lasts for 16 days with the main day being celebrated last Monday

The day before Holi bonfires are lit and effigies of demonesses like Holikais are burned. The next day holi celebrated with a riot of colour, with powder paints, buckets of colourded and scented water and giant syringe-like water pistols

Interestingly, the spring season, during which the weather changes, is believed to cause fevers and cold. Thus, the playful throwing of natural coloured powders has a medicinal significance. The colours are traditionally made of neem, kumkum, haldi, bilva, and other medicinal herbs prescribed by Ayurvedic doctors.

I expected the Monday of Holi to be a typical Monday... work, school etc but the atmosphere in Delhi and the ashram was that of a public holiday so there was not work done that day. That morning before the kids had even got out of bed I found myself up at the kids house being squirted with coloured water and powder paint... it was a lot of fun for both me and the kids. So after that I assumed that was it for my holi experience so I washed all the paint off and got into some clean clothes.

Later that day, Murari, one of the boys asked me to drive him to Savita's house (the ashram teacher) to visit for Holi. The village of Narela was so different from its normal daily hustle and bustle. All the shops were closed except for those selling colourful powder paint and water guns. The village itself looked like a colourful war zone. There were people walking around covered from head to toe in the most vivid colours you have ever seen. The streets themselves were covered in water and paint.

When we got to Savitas house we parked as close as we could to her house and then we literally had to run to her door to avoid being drowned by buckets of water being tipped on us by people on their roof, while being chased by guys determined to see us covered in paint. Amazingly we made it to her house clean and dry.

Indian hospitality is so wonderful... I guess it comes from having such an old culture. It does not matter if I am literally popping in some where to drop something off; water and chai are offered and served as a matter of course. Thus it was at Savitas as well. When Savita offered water she mentioned that she did not have bottled or filtered but only tap. I said "koi bat nahi" which means no worries and drank the tap water. I think my gut is well and truly accustomed to India now as I have not had any problems in over a year now.

After water and chai we were offered pakora....mmmm so good! I must learn how to make it.

It was so great to spend some time with Savita and get to know her a little better. It also made me realise that I need to find more time to visit and spend with the kids.

That afternoon Sam instigated a little water fight by throwing some water at Ruth. It was not long before a full scale water and colour fight was underway. Eventually everyone was lured out and covered with paint and water... there was a long line for the showers that night!

I am fairly rubbish at uploading photos to the blog so if you want to see them you need to befriend me on facebook :)

This will probably be my last blog for a few weeks as my sister arrives on Monday and I will be heading off on a few more travels.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Wedding Crashers

Last Friday night I attended my second and third Indian wedding. An invitation was extended to the ashram volunteers by doctor Ashish who is a respiratory specialist that visits the ashram a couple of times a week. So with much excitement the two Ruths and I were wrapped in our Saris and with the boys headed to Lavanya wedding lawn for the marriage of Dr Ashish's friend whom we have never met.

We knew that the wedding would not get cranking until about 10pm but decided to head off at 8pm so that we could soak up the atmosphere and the amazing food for as long as possible. This wedding was definitely way fancier than the first wedding we went to. There would have been over 100 metres of buffet/service tables with every kind of vegetarian food imaginable including non Indian foods such as pizza and pasta. Of course I never made it to the pasta as I was filled with finger foods by the over attentive circling waiters. It was quite funny actually, dotted around the wedding lawn which was about the size of a soccer pitch were tables and chairs as well as ornate carved lounge settings. As soon as we took a seat is was like bees to honey...our group being the honey. About 20 waiters converged on us with all sorts of amazing foods and flashy drinks. So it was not long before I was stuffed with all sorts of tasty Indian snacks such as tikka paneer, veg Manchurian, chilli potatoes as well as the most amazing pizza and fruits. Set up around the venue were big screens where live wedding moments from the guests was projected. Our conspicuous little group certainly got a lot of air time.

At about 9.30pm we heard the band leading the grooms carriage approaching so we headed outside to join in the ruckus. As we were in an area where there were multiple wedding venues there was more than one groom approaching his wedding. We tagged along with the procession that we thought was going to the wedding we were invited too. It is with huge fanfare that grooms arrives at his wedding. The groom for the wedding we attended was quite pudgy and sat in his horse drawn carriage flanked by his two daughters (I assume it was a second marriage) before the carriage were the ubiquitous two white horses; then a full brass band all dressed up in marching band regalia. At this stage of the wedding it is mainly men that are present along with a few of the grooms immediate female relatives who are dressed up to the hilt. It is quite a spectacle watching the men dance as if possessed. Only a few of the women from the grooms family dance but as foreigners we were welcomed and strongly encouraged to join in. So the two Ruths and I were having a great time; meanwhile Ray is getting call after call from Dr Ashish who is wondering were we are. We keep repeating above the noise that we are with the groom, but Dr Ashish insists that he is with the groom. Eventually he finds the wrong wedding!! We are literally in stitches as we are lead to the neighboring party lawn to the wedding we were supposed to attend. It just so happened that the groom was just arriving then so we got to enjoy the procession all over again... :) Great night!

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Here I am once again typing in the dark; it seems that blackouts follow me every where I go.

So this blog post is about our recent jaunt to Manali. Manali is a hill station located in the north of India in the central part of Himachal Pradesh. It is located at an altitude of 2050 metres and is spread along the banks of the Beas river.We had planned a 6 day trip and where lucky we actually got home in that time-frame after being snowed in with landslides covering the main route in and out of Manali. So here is a bit of a play by play of our trip....

Eight of us set out at 5am on Thursday morning for the 500km/9hour journey to Manali. Jenni prepared a scavenger hunt to keep us entertained throughout the journey. Some of the more ammusing but not uncommon items on the list included a motorbile with training wheels, a truck on its side an elephant...just the usual sights. The only problem with the game was that it meant that we missed a crucial turnoff which added several kilometres and about 2 hours to the trip. It wasnt all in vain though as we went through some amazing villages and saw some spectacular scenery. Generally I am not a great person for car travel but this drive was amazing; the scenery changed from smoggy dusty delhi to steep mountains covered with pine trees or terraced with crops which appeared as vivid ribbons of green banding the steep slopes.

We also stopped to cross swaying foot bridges that crossed the Beas river which has the most amazing jade/blue water you have ever seen. We did not reach Manali until about 8pm after spending 6 hours saying we had 2 hours to go!

It seems I got my way and we stayed at the Hotel Yak which was very well located by the mall area in the town of Manali. That night we had dinner at the Mountview resteraunt which became our haunt for much of the trip.

After breakfast on out first day in Manali we headed up the mountain to Solang which is the main ski resort (if you could call it that) and guess what... there was no snow...none at all! Instead there was about 100 horses available for trips up the mountain where there was patches of snow. There was paragliding and zorbing available as well. Seeing as we had made the journey we made the most of it and went for a hike up the mountain to where there was enough snow to have a snowball fight and to watch the Beas river forming from the melt water beginning its long trip down the mountain.

It was kind of nice hiking through the snow in just jeans, T-shirt and gumboots.

The rest of the day we spent exploring Manali enjoying amazing food and making plans for our not-skiing holiday.

So on day 2 we planned a mountain bike ride. We biked 40 kilometres taking in the most amazing scenery through apple orchards, pine forests and quaint villages. Many of the wooden huts in the villages where sagging under the weight of thier thick slate roofs. Unlike biking in Sydney we had some rather unusual obstacles such as goats, cows, and donkeys. Halfway through our trip we stopped at a little village for lunch. When we pulled up outside a food stall the guide said we could have dahl and rice; I think we all gagged. We asked if momo's was an option and we ended up heading 100metres further down the road to the most amazing little shack selling the best momos and chowmein in India; I think food tasted better in the mountains.

After lunch we enjoyed a 5 kilometre winding downhill coast before a slow 10 kilometre cimb (in the rain) up to the hot springs. What a way to finish the day.

That night we headed up to Johnson lodge to enjoy cocktails and trout (a local delicacy). It was one of the best meals I have had in India... I so miss fish! While at dinner we had planned to do another bike ride the next day... 50ks with more off road sections. But it was not to be at 10pm it started snowing in Manali. The biggest flakes of snow I had ever seen and the frst snow in Manali in 2 years. By the next morning a foot of snow covered the town of Manali and by that night it was 2 foot deep. So that was the end of our mountain biking and it was supposed to be the start of our skiing/boarding but wouldn't you know it there was too much snow! We could not get anywhere near Solang valley in fact we could not get out of Manali. We were litterely snowed in and blacked out for the next four days. This meant no heating, no lights and most importantly no hot showers! All was not lost we still enjoyed treks through the snow in the Manali nature reserve and we built a huge rolled snowball snowman...I have never done that before :)

The day before we were due to leave Manali there was a break in the weather and the boys had discovered a potential way off the mountain (the main road was closed due to a landslide). We made a snap decision at four o'clock that afternoon to try to get down the mountain to Kullu and head back to Delhi from Kullu the following day. So we all rushed to pack up our cold wet gear as fast as we could before the sunset. While we were packing Sam went up to the local hardware store to buy a shovel. The shovel affectionately named Neville certainly paid for itself on the trip out of Manali...even though it only cost 150 rupees ($3.50). Not long after we headed out of Manali via the snow covered roads Sam and Jake were helping dig cars out of the snow and out of our way; it seemed we were the only ones with enough foresight to think that a shovel might be a necessary tool to get off the mountain.

It took 5 hours to cover the 48 kilometres to Kullu. At one point we were stuck behind a multitude of bogged cars when it started to snow. We spent about an hour just watching the snow cover the windscreen; it was quite mesmerising... a bit like watching a game of Tetris as all the gaps were filled.

By the time we got to Kullu we were cold, hungry and exhausted. Fortunately we had made it before all the hotel receptions closed. We stopped at the first hotel we found and checked in. It was a relatively dodgy rabbit warren of a place but it was super cheap ($10) and a place to sleep.

The drive back home to Delhi was as scenic as all India. The highlight of this part of the trip would have been driving through Punjab and spotting the most amazing coloured turbans worn by the men of the predominantly sikh state.

We stopped for lunch at a buzzing roadside restaurant. In the end we decided to cancel our order after an hour and a half of waiting for our meals and Ray spotting the chefs recycling drinks as he walked into the kitchen to complain. Outside the restaurant there was a samosa and snack stand. Not being a big fan of samosas I opted for a mix of buja, dried peas and moong dhal seasoned with onion and lime juice. It seems that it was a good decision as those who had the samosas started feeling heady and spaced out; I was asked if there was a culinary herb that could have that effect? I suggested that perhaps the herb was the Marijuana that was growing in plague proportions along the roadside.

Our final stop on our journey home was the city of Chandigarh. Once again it was like stepping into another country...or on reflection like arriving in Canberra. Chandigarh is perhaps the most organised city in India. It is the dream city of India's first Prime Minister and was planned by the famous French architect Le Corbusier. Chandigarh is known as one of the best experiments in urban planning in India. The streets of Chandigarh are wide and tree lined with the fallen leaves swept into neat piles. The round-abouts are immaculately groomed, some with the only working fountains I have ever seen in all my time in India.

Our one sightseeing stop in Chandigarh was Nek Chand's Rock Garden. Nek Chand was a government official who started the garden secretly in his spare time in 1957. The garden is spread over forty-acres and it is completely built of industrial as well as home waste and thrown-away items. It was discovered by the authorities in 1975, by which time it had grown into a 12-acre garden of interlinked courtyards, each filled with hundreds of pottery-covered concrete sculptures of dancers, musicians, and animals. The sculptures are predominantly decorated with broken porcelain cups, tiles plates and even toilets though there were also 50-100 sculptures of women in saris decorated with thousands of broken glass bangles which are traditionally worn by Indian women. The place was definitely a bit quirky and would be really creepy to wander through at night but it is definitely worth a visit if you are ever passing through Chandigarh.

I have just put together a bit of video footage from our time away...we are not the best at taking the time to capture things on video so I did not have a lot to work with. I will have it up on YouTube shortly and will add a link to the video bar.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Blacked Out

Its 9 am on a Wednesday morning and we have been blacked out since about midnight. So here I am with literally nothing to do until the power comes back on; I guess I will write until either the power comes on or my battery dies.

I am certainly looking at the bright side; at least its not the middle of summer when my sanity is linked to a functioning ceiling fan.

I am really looking forward to my visa running out in May...busting for a trip home. January has been a very slow month for me and has been plodding along at a turtle pace. It has been freezing here at the ashram with heavy fog rolling in each night. A couple of times we have found ourselves driving home not looking out the front windscreen but head hanging out the window looking for the centre line on the road to guide our way.

There finally seems to be a bit of a shift in the weather though. This morning when I rolled out of bed at 7am to head to the Mandir (temple) for a bit of exercise there was hardly any fog and heaps of birds where chirping. Its feeling a bit like spring.

A few of us are getting up at 7am these days to meet in the temple to do a bit of a workout. We set up a circuit and work out way around for about an hour. Giresh our blind massage therapist/yoga instructor is also up doing his sun salutations at the front of the temple. Sometimes I join in with his warm up, but I move onto my own routine when he stands on his head. His core strength is unbelievable and I have never seen any one move from downward dog to cobra so gracefully.

So what else has happened this month. Well we had two patients die within five minutes of each other on Saturday morning. Below I have inserted an excerpt from Ruth's blog as she articulates their stories so well...

Two of our patients passed away this morning. One of our staff came and told Ruth before breakfast that they weren't doing well. She found them in their beds semi conscious and struggling to breathe. Pyara Baba had been with us for months and was on TB meds but over the last couple of months his brain had slowly deteriorated from TB menengitis and he had become one of the crazy characters that makes life at the ashram so colourful and different. His tall and skinny body been helped to the clinic for his dressing as he called out "koi baat nahi" (hindi for 'don't worry') was an everyday sight and sound that we'd gotten used to.

The other patient, Lakhan, was a more recent admission, also suffering from long term TB. He was old, emaciated, and had a chest drain protruding from his right lung that sucked in air every time he inhaled. He'd been walking around the ashram even as recently as yesterday, and didn't look too close to death. But this morning, he looked like another man, gasping for breath, eyes glazed over, and not responsive to questions.

The decision was made not to rush them to a hospital as they probably wouldn't survive the journey and the hospitals won't intubate someone whose sputum positive for TB anyway. So we put them on oxygen and spent the next hour with them, comforting them as best we could as we sat with them, holding their hands and inwardly hoping they wouldn't struggle for too much longer. Lakhan was the first to give up his struggle for oxygen and his laboured gasps became slower and slower until they stopped altogether. Pyara Baba followed him within minutes.

The Indian boys then wrapped the bodies in white linen and covered them with flowers from our garden and we had a small funeral service for them. A time to reflect on the value of life, its shortness and the importance of how we choose to live it.

The service for deceased patients is a relatively new thing here at the ashram. The bodies have always been wrapped, adorned with flowers and placed in the temple until they are taken to the crematorium. But these days we have a small service and say a few words and prayers. This particular Saturday morning there was quite a turn out and Ruth did an amazing job of leading the service.

Afterwards it was suggested that we could drop the bodies to the crematorium on the way to soccer. Ruth however pointed out it would be a bit squishy in the car with the four of us as well as two bodies, not to mention that it might traumatise the kids.

I am hoping that time starts moving a bit more swiftly in February. We have quite a bit planned over the next few months. Firstly we are off for a week of skiing in the Himalayas. There will be 8 of us loading into the car for the 9 hour drive up to Manali. There has been much hoohaa as to which hotel we should book. I have two sure fire ways of picking a hotel; first I go with a recommendation from someone I know and if I don't have a recommendation I pick the hotel with the most unusual name. So if I get my way we will be staying at the Yak Hotel in Manali. Once I picked a hotel in Cooma based on its name. it was called the Hawaii Motel....couldn't be further from Hawaii if you tried; not a palm tree in sight. Ray described it as one of those motels that you see in movies like Dusk til Dawn where massacres takes place. I will keep you posted as to how the Yak Hotel turns out. One very extreme sport that Manali is famous for is Yak skiing. Here is a very amusing description of Yak skiing taken from TIME magazine (I love the use of the word behemoth)...

In the Indian hill resort of Manali, Tibetan Peter Dorje runs an operation dedicated to the most implausible extreme sport in the world: yak skiing. In winter, he takes up to five skiers and his herd of beasts to the hills above town, making overnight camp. Come morning, Pete heads to a high slope with the yaks, trailing out a rope behind him. You wait below, wearing your skis and holding a bucket of pony nuts. When Pete reaches the top, he ties a large pulley to a tree, loops the rope through it and onto a stamping, snorting yak. Now it's your turn—and this is the important part. First tie yourself onto the other end of the rope, then shake the bucket of nuts and quickly put it down. The yak charges down the mountain after the nuts, pulling you up it at rocket speed. If you forget yourself in the excitement and shake the bucket too soon, you'll be flattened by two hairy tons of behemoth. Or as Pete says, "Never shake the bucket of nuts before you're tied to the yak rope." This piece of Himalayan sagacity can be restated in many ways that apply to everyday life: do things in their proper order, make adequate preparations before embarking on a risky venture, and so on. Or it can be seen for what it is: a barmy injunction to even barmier tourists. There's one thing Pete won't tell you, though. If you spike the nuts with pain au chocolat from the bakery at the northern end of town (where you'd also find Pete), you'll transform the yaks into slobbering, compliant puppies. That you'll have to discover for yourself.

The kids have started back to school early this year in order to get ahead before the traveling begins. Sam is doing really well thus far and is enjoying his new elective subjects of Electronics and Photographic and Digital Media. Its great being at the ashram too as there is always 'educational' stuff happening that he wouldn't learn at school. Yesterday he took a break from History to duck down to the clinic to see a patient with an abscess the size of a tennis ball on his neck being lanced. It wasn't very satisfying... it didn't gush like Om Prakash's abscess it was more of a trickle. The last time we had some new patients arrive at the ashram from the Yamuna bazaar Sam was in the clinic with the smell watching who knows how many week old bandages being removed from very smelly and maggoty wounds.The other guy we picked up was literally a skeleton he also has leprosy and would have been dead within the day. At this point he is still improving but I am not sure if he will survive. We have a few patients here with active leprosy at the moment....don't worry its hard to catch.

When will this power come back on!!! I need to work. I need to do washing. I need a hot shower!

We have a few other short holidays to look forward to in March when my sister and brother in-law come to visit. Of course when they are here we will do the Golden Triangle (Delhi- Agra- Jaipur- Delhi) where we will see the Taj Mahal among other things. After that I am tossing up between an Elephant Safari to see wild tigers etc or visiting Udaipur (as featured in the Bond movie Octopussy) or perhaps a camel desert safari in Jodhpur... so much to see so little time! We will finish our holiday together with a week in Goa. I can't tell you how much I am looking forward to seeing the ocean.

The month of April will be the last month I have to fill before we head home. At this point it will be a lonely month as all out amazing NZ volunteers will have headed home and it will just be Judith, Uwe and the four of us at the ashram. We do have one small adventure planned for the end of April. We will be heading to Rishikesh which is on the banks of the Ganges as it flows fresh from the Himalayas .We will be camping with 80 other expats and enjoying a long weekend of white water rafting in the icy water. Soon after that I plan to head home and escape a couple of months of the scorching Delhi summer.

Well my battery is getting low and I have run out of things to write about... I hope I have not been repeating myself as I can't get on the internet to see what I last wrote. I think I will go for a walk.


Its been nearly 48 hours and the power is finally back on. It turns out someone stole our $2000 power cable that brings power into the ashram. We now have a temporary fix. Just had a luxurious hot shower (no power means no water here as power is needed to pump the water onto the roof)