Saturday, December 02, 2006

India. Chapter 2. Walking in the clouds

Picture 1. Clouds over the retreat

The retreat is around 2000m in the Nilgris (Blue Mountains). Small round cottages are tucked into the side of the hill surrounded by tea plants.

The weather constantly changes - clouts roll past, either engulfing us in damp air or rain or revealing blue skies and hot strong sunshine. It was hard to know what to wear - you were either too hot or too cold!

Our room (the bottom left in the picture) had a view across to the south east and over the valley - as well as to the yoga hall. This was useful as we could see when people were walking up and so we could make a dash and get a good spot before class.

Picture 2. Our cottage

In the mornings we welcomed the day at 6.30 with yoga. This was preceeded by the medicine man who delivered foul tasting potions with a winning smile. Yoga was a magincal experience - doing sun salutations and then sitting palms up as the sun floods into the room and into your hands. Even the torturous poses that we did did not seem that bad and we took it all with good humour and the occasional giggle as we were told to "inhayeeee" and "exhayeee" or to do the "gangeroo pose" and to "feel the benefit".

Picture 3. Medicine Man

Chapter 2, II - Tea

The tea is real tea - that is, rather than being ornamental, its tips are harvested and sent to a local tea factory where it is dried and fermented to make the black tea we're used to.

Picture 4 Lady picking tea

Sunday, November 26, 2006

India - chapter 1, the journey.

Well I'm back and I have to say that I had amazing time. I loved India more than I ever thought I would. It's chaotic, and dirty and noisy, but it's also vibrant, friendly, funny and unexpected.

So I'll write bits and pieces when I can about my experiences. There's much to say so bear with me. Now, are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Our journey was eventful to say the least. From the stresses of getting to Heathrow in rush hour on a Friday night to a check-in with a broken luggage belt, to security checks, to getting lost in Terminal 3 (don't ask) and having to go through security again to only just making the plane, whish was delayed any way... then being late to land in Mumbai and missing our connecting flight!! A very quick lesson in learning to go with the flow - essential practice in India!!!

Eventually a new flight booked and a madcap taxi ride through Mumbai to a part of town called Colaba, where we went to a hotel that J&J had sated in before - clean, basic and cool. And very very welcome.

Mumbai is a fear of sound and colour, almost too much to focus on. The traffic is fast and furious, there seem to be few rules excpet to stick to the left. Otherwise it's point and go. And hoot. A lot.

Every surface is covered with posters and flowers. Buildings crumble behind. There are people everywhere - drinking tea, selling fruit or shirts, or souvenirs, or tailoring on the street with old sewing machines, and of course begging.

"Please mama, bebe, mumma, eat mumma" It's relentless. There is evidence of ppverty everywhere. There's no disabled rights or benefits or care for the elderly on the streets. As the middle classes grow more powerful so does the divide between them and the poor. This is not a shock to me, as I have similar images imprinted on my brain from our time in Brazil, but nevertheless it's a reminder of how much we have in the west.

We ventured out, seeing the Taj at dusk and even more people gathering around it - peple selling balloons. kulfi, anything and everything.

Walking past shops is a bit like being in Brick Lane - every trader wants you to come and look - it's easier to say "later" than no, upon which you're handed a business card.

That evening we went to Indigo which is a popular and trendy Bombay restaurant - not traditional Indian but western (French/Italian) dishes with Indian spice. A risotto to die for.

The next day our travels resumed and this time our flight was undramatic. We arrived in Combiatore where we were met by Krishna the driver and fellow guest Anisa. It was a two hour journey where we saw another side of India - lush green plantations interspersed with colourful villages, which unlike here are not sleepy hideyholes but vibrant busy places.

More Indian driving - lots of honking and overtaking and weaving around people. goats, donkeys, chickens, dogs and the ubiquitous sacred cow.

We stopped for coconut water drunk from the shell and then this was broken and the tender flesh eaten. As we drove we shared stories of family and looked at pictures. As it grew darker we climbed higher into the mountains and the road became more and more bumpy.

More dodging of people and animals and other vehicles, waterfalls cascading down the side of the hills. Eventually it was dark and you could hear the water and soon we had arrived at the retreat.