Friday, 25 November 2011

Om Shanti...Ommmmmm!

This week Chris and I have spent several days in the holy mountain town of Rishikesh, immersing ourselves in Yoga practice twice a day, detoxing on pure veggie food and tea (apart from that illicit bottle of whiskey - oops!) and generally relaxing to a slow pace of life that is rarely experienced in hectic India.

8am Hatha Yoga session followed by breakfast. Sitting on our sun-drenched balcony, followed by 2.30pm Ashtanga Yoga session, followed by lunch, a nap, dinner and an early night. It's been quite nice getting into a routine and with views such as the below to savour, we have thoroughly enjoyed our time here. Yoga is now set to be a firm fixture in our daily activities throughout our travels in this crazy land - expect us to come back fully flexible Yogis - a bit like this dude (hmmm...)!

View from our balcony

A position Chris and I will master by the time we come home...

Friday, 18 November 2011

Om Mani Padme Hum

This week I spent some time in Bodhgaya (amongst other places), the most important of four main pilgrimage sites for Buddhists around the world. It was here that Gautama Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment, under a Bodhi tree, and the surrounding landscape is dotted with foreign Buddhist monasteries, each exhibiting their own local architectural style. The most impressive of these was the Thai Monastery and temple, topped with a glitteringly adorned gold leaf roof and set in tranquil and beautifully maintained gardens, a haven away from the chaos outside the temple gates.

The actual tree under which Buddha's 6 year path to enlightenment culminated is no longer here (the original is actually now in Sri Lanka and a cutting has been planted here), but a beautiful temple has been built to mark this holy place and hundreds of pilgrims flock here annually to meditate and pray in the extensive gardens. Things were particularly chaotic at this time as everyone was preparing for the Dalai Lama's visit in December.

The Mahabodhi Temple is a beautiful place to sit and contemplate life, a peaceful oasis in an otherwise dusty and noisy town. I spent a couple of days here wandering around the various different monasteries (all very different in look and feel) and taking in the unique vibe and spirituality of the town.

Thai Monastery and Temple

Mahabodhi Temple

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The People's Republic of Food

Beijing is an assault on the senses, a culture shock in the truest sense of the word. Arriving by train into the centre of the city brings this swiftly home. People are just everywhere, throngs of people pushing, shoving, laughing, spitting, picking their noses; everywhere you go in the city you are accompanied by a seething mass of humanity. Perhaps related to this, everything feels big and sprawling. The roads are all at least six lanes wide, the train stations are as vast as airports, and boy do they love a big square in which people can gather and gawp in awe at the majestic greatness of the Republic. The cities feel spacious and generally more low rise, growing outwards rather than upwards as in Europe and America. Our time on trains and buses outside of the city indicates that this outward development is showing no signs of stopping either. Subtlety is not a Chinese trait; neon signs, strings of bright red lanterns, honking horns, blaring music and all this in a language that is as alien to Chris and I as can be. Luckily the Chinese are extremely friendly in the majority and a smile and a few gestures always seemed to do the trick even if they did roll their eyes and sigh at us and our painful attempts at Mandarin pronunciation.

Chris and I are not ones for seeing sights for sight's sake. Don't get me wrong, the Forbidden Palace is stunning, the Great Wall really is 'great' (in the words of Mary Hurd) and Tiananmen Square, well, please see above about epic squares. However, for me, experiencing cities is much more about wandering through the streets, sitting in the cafes, bars, restaurants, meeting the people, popping into the local random shops (kitsch rubbish galore) and, well, 'living'. Actually, on this visit in particular, all that really meant eating and given that we had much time to kill whilst planning our escape from the madness of the impending week long national holiday we did plenty of it.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Small things that bring great joy

It's been a bit of a nothing week this week. Plenty of bus and train journeys, and plenty of chillage in the bars and restaurants of Kathmandu. So I thought I would share one of my favourites pictures of the trip with you instead of a foto Friday 'what's been going on this week' update.

The topic of children has come up a lot recently. Once when Chris and I met the inspirational Garry Goddard,  who set up his own children's charity in Nepal about 13 years ago helping to reunite displaced kids with their parents, and then again on a bus ride to the Indian border where I met an Australian woman who had been volunteering in an orphanage in the Kathmandu valley. The topic has also featured heavily in the books I've been reading ('Stones into Schools', and 'Half the Sky'). I have heard so many heart-breaking stories with children at the centre of them that it made me think, paradoxically, of a happy little chappy we encountered in a rural Tibetan village. I had been playing hide and seek with him and just managed to capture the perfect shot (I think!) of that moment with him, darting between the trucks and jeeps. His smile was so readily given and genuine, his giggle so infectious that it really did create a small moment that I will never forget. As ever, it's the small things that really make an impact in life.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The Land of Plenty

Ok, so I've been lazy on the updates. It had to happen at some point and Nepal was finally the place to make Chris and I go 'wow', and simply forget ourselves in trekking, biking, laking and safari-ing. There will be many many more blogs to come on our time here but here are a few photos of the highlights to make up for all the lost foto Friday's I've spent away from the internet.