Jaipur

Last stop before the return to Delhi and the flight back to the UK.

Jaipur.

Possibly one of the prettiest cities in the world.

  
Painted terracotta for a visit by Prince Albert, and kept that way ever since.

A hill top palace

  
Mirrored halls

  
The beautiful Jal Mahal

  
The absolutely bonkers Royal Observatory

  
Poppadum sellers

  
carpet makers

  
And Tattooed camels

  
Yes Jaipur has it all.

As Alanis Morrisette would say Thank you India 

And no, that’s not ironic.

:-)

Me, Myself and (My 3rd) Eye

One of the things I am loving about India is how the spiritual and the secular parts of life are not compartmentalised but are intertwined and integrated.

Shrines and temples on every street; acts of devotion a no-nonsense, no-big-deal part of everyday life.

And people doing yoga, and meditating, in a similar, no-big-deal, just part of everyday life kind of way.

I admire that.

  
I’ve been struggling with a meditation practice for some time now (see  this post for a typical example of my experience), but in spite of nearly daily attempts, it hasn’t really happened for me.

The monkey mind remains untamed.

And so it was with some interest that I saw a place in Jaipur offering Ayurvedic massages that purport to open your third eye and facilitate the gaining of that elusive state of mental quietude that I was beginning to think was the yogic equivalent of the Emperors New Clothes.

So, in the spirit of Interest and inquiry, and it must be said, quite a lot of cynicism, I booked myself in for a Shirodhara massage.

It started, in a slightly startling fashion, by being told to take off all my clothes and put on a rather fetching pair of ginormous paper granny knickers (reminding me of the one time I went for a manicure in Leamington- but that’s a story for another time).

The lights were dimmed and I was told to lie down on the massage bed and relax.

At which point boiling oil was poured all over me.

Well, perhaps not boiling, but that’s how it felt at first to my unexpectedly exposed and goose pimpled skin.

Then the massage began – an hour of warm oil and expert pummelling, every joint popped, cracked and quite possibly dislocated.

After an hour, you are wrapped in towels, your eyes tightly blindfolded and then,

And then,

A stream of warm oil is poured continuously onto your forehead, the site of the “third eye”.

It is simultaneously slightly disgusting but also incredibly relaxing.

For twenty minutes or so I lay there, mind shifting this way and that, trying hard not to fall asleep and embarrass myself by a) snoring or b) dribbling.

And then the weirdest darned thing happened.

The thoughts stopped.

There was nothing except awareness of being.

Complete stillness.

It lasted for probably all of ten seconds.

And was frankly terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.
There may just be something in this meditation business after all.

  

Pigeons and tigers and tractors (oh my)

Health and safety is not a concept that seems to worry people unduly in the area of India we have experienced so far.

From the impressive clusters of up to 7 people riding on a single motorbike (without helmets), to the laid back cows strolling down the middle of the dual carriageways, to the families walking nonchalantly across railway tracks seconds before high speed express trains go thundering past.

A quite liberating embracing of risk and responsibility.

Unless you are a pigeon landing on one of the myriad exposed electricity cables hanging between buildings in the streets of Agra.

On the bright side, the resulting power cut was quite short lived.

Just like the pigeon.

  
From Agra we caught the train to Ranthambhore Nature Reserve.  

The train station gave another opportunity to witness lives that we rarely get to see in the protected and privileged environs of the U.K.  

So much poverty.  Beggars with heartbreaking disabilities.

And also, a brief sighting of a Sadhu, or holy man.

Brief, because this particular Sadhu had chosen the path of the drug-taking holy fool and was taking great delight in accosting and embarrassing onlookers.

For some reason, we suddenly found an urgent need to inspect something on the opposite side of the platform.

Ranthambhore is a vast nature reserve with an impressive range of different landscapes and terrains within its boundaries.

A haven for wildlife, we were fortunate enough to see this beauty

  
He stood in the middle of the track for several minutes before lying down and making sure everyone got to photograph his best side

  
  
The Tigers were amazing, but for some reason the image of Ranthambhore that is staying with me most is…..

The Musical Tractors

  
Look at this bad boy.­čśä

You could see them coming a mile off.

And, with their fondness for playing Indian pop music at a decibel level nearing that of a harrier jump jet taking off, you could hear them from even further away.

Hmmm, that may possibly be a reason tiger sightings in the reserve are quite rare.

  

Delhi Dichotomy

Nothing prepares you for the assault on the senses that is Delhi.

You think you know what to expect.

Noise, colour, smells.

People.

But actually?

Nothing prepares you for Delhi.

On the one hand, a global city.

Full of new high rise building, fancy technology, designer shopping malls.

On the other hand, entrenched traditional class system, rubbish and pollution on a jaw-dropping scale.

Slum ghettoes built of plastic bottles and corrugated iron.

Nicely juxtaposed with the air conditioned shopping shrines to Versace and Armani.

  
And Delhi seems to comfortably absorb it all.

In amongst the chaos of the markets of Old Delhi is the haven of the Jama Masjid mosque. 

  
What you don’t see in this picture of beauty and serenity is youngest child being chased by a frenzied mob of adoring fans who all wanted to take selfies stood next to the small girl with the strange red hair.

You also don’t see the fetching polyester neck to foot covering tablecloth all women are required to wear when visiting the site.

Can’t help thinking it would be more apt to provide blindfolds for the men.

But who am I to judge?

And as an added bonus all that polyester in 37 degree sunshine provides the convenience of a portable sauna for the fortunate ladies who get to wear it.

Result.

  
I have a thing for archways.

  
And green saris ­čÖé

  
And monks taking selfies.

A hard day.  

So many beautiful historic sites.  And so much abject poverty and misery.

The tourist gaze awestruck.

And uncomfortable.

A journey …

It’s been a long time coming.

Getting on for 30 years in fact (how did that happen?)

BUT

We’re finally here.

India.

An intriguing mix of the cutting edge, and the very traditional.

Secular and sacred

  
 Delhi airport.  Passport control and giant mudras.

And why not?

And actually, after battling with Indian bureaucracy and biometric data collection, you can see why people might need a bit of calming meditation.

So, in the spirit of immersing ourselves in the experience, youngest child and I had booked a yoga class at our hotel.

I had assumed this would be a gentle generic type of yoga, aimed at the flagging business person.

You should never make assumptions.

The class consisted of youngest child and myself.

The teacher, a 29 year old, dressed all in white with film star good looks, took one look at youngest child and myself and sniffed “I usually just teach yoga teachers, but never mind”

I’m sure I don’t know how  he could tell we weren’t yoga teachers.

Possibly the look of fear on our faces?

What followed was a very interesting hour of yoga, performed outside in the grounds of the hotel.

And probably a very entertaining hour for anybody who happened to catch sight of us.

Not only did we have to get into the postures, but we then had to hold them whilst performing a type of pranayama called Kapalbhati See this you tube link for an example .

And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, we had to do standing balancing postures on a hill.  Whilst doing Kapalbhati breathing.

At one point the teacher made the comment that this was very good exercise for the belly.

Before looking at youngest child and saying pointedly “Of course, you don’t have a belly”.

Don’t know what he was implying. ­čÖé

And then just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse he did a…

Chakra Reading.

I’m not sure what I expected.

But I know I didn’t expect to be sat in a room, just him, me and youngest child

Having to take turns chanting a 7 line long mantra.

Anyone who knows me will know I am vocally challenged.

But to my horror, and for some unknown reason, Halfway through, I found myself chanting in a pub singer stylee.

Occasionally throwing in a Mariah Carey type falsetto wobble, just for a bit of variety.

I could see the corner of the teachers eye twitching.

But reader, I found myself unable to stop.

We were all relieved when the session came to an end.

India.  It’s going to be an interesting journey.
  

 

Rumi-nating

Well, it’s been a while.

Four months to be exact.

BUT!

New Year, new leaf, new starts and all that.

And an absolute doozy of a book to recommend…

The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafakimage

Now I must admit I knew very little about Rumi before I read this book.

Other than the fact that he seems to feature rather a lot when someone wants a spiritual sound bite for an inspirational quote.

Sort of a Thirteenth Century Athena poster guy.

But without cats.

How very wrong I was…

This book beautifully interweaves the story of Rumi’s platonic love for Shams of Tabriz, with a contemporary love story between a middle aged secular minded Jewish housewife and a modern day Sufi.

Improbable?   Possibly.

But the Universe works in mysterious ways.:-)

This book provides a gentle introduction to the poetry and mysticism of Sufism, and to the wisdom and spiritual journey of Rumi.

Just lovely.

Buy it, read it, feel better.

Now that’s inspirational!:-)

 

 

 

Wild Hunt

It’s the Monday after the first Sunday after the fourth of September.

So it must be

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The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance.

Possibly the best folk custom in the world.

Ever.

The day starts with the blessing of the horns in the Parish C

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hur

ch.

And then the day begins.

This year was a special year as it is the centenary of the start of the First World War.
Four dancers went off to war in 1914, but only two returned.

Today,  four dancers wore uniform in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the war,  in particular those lost from

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The D

ance

As always,  it was a joy to follow the dancers around the village and su

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rrounding

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area.

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But today was particularly poignant.

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Pearls

I thought they were extinct

Or at least an endangered species

But at the Faversham Hop Festival today we spotted them.

At first just a pair

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But later,  a whole posse of them

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Performing “Roll out the barrel”,  “My Old Mans a Dustman”  and so many more.

It was great.

There were hops a plenty

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In garlands

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And on hats.

And Faversham is lovely

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It has a Physic Garden

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A rather beautifully decorated brewery

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And a gunpowder mill.

Every town should have one.

Ahem.

The festival was noisy,  bustling and good fun.

Beer was flowing freely

But as I cant stand the stuff we sampled other local produce instead.

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All in the name of supporting small local artisans you understand:-)

Yum.

Sun and slime

The first sunny day in what seems like forever.

The 2015 man-free holiday.

An annual tradition,  a few days of catch-up chat,  laughter,  and the opportunity to see some of the more eccentric aspects of British life.

Today we headed to Brightlingsea for the Opening of the Oyster Fishery.  

The Mayor and the great and the good headed off in boats

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Proclamations were made and a long lunch was had to celebrate the start of oyster season.

Well,  there is now an ‘r’ in the month.

Shockingly,  there is nowhere in Brightlingsea to sample oysters so we headed down the coast to Whitstable,  a fab,  retro,  slightly bohemian seaside resort on the Kent coast.

Couldn’t move for oyster shops there!

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I’ve tried oysters before,  and yes,  they are still disgusting second time around.

Imagine swallowing a giant,  slightly salty and fishy tasting bogey and you’ll get the idea.

Not that I’ve ever tasted a giant,  slightly salty and fishy tasting bogey.   But if I had,  that’s what it would be like.

Hope no one’s eating as they read this! :-)

Hops and cream teas tomorrow.

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A GoodLife

The thing about growing up in the 70s

(Seen through the obligatory rose-tinted spectacles of course)

Was the amazing amount of high profile, ┬áiconic, ┬ácreative types who were influencing culture – both high- and low- brow.

Building on the political,  social and cultural upheavals of the 60s, the 70s (if you could ignore the occasional ill-advised hair or clothing choice)  embedded that peculiarly British love of the weird,  the avant garde,  the misfit.

It embraced the iconoclastic,  the creative and the revolutionary.

So what icon of the 70s have I found to have made the most lasting impact on my life?

Was it Marc Bolan?

No,  definitely too glam

Was it the Sex Pistols?

Umm,  bit too spiky and aggressive.  Not enough languishing or wafting in a wraithe-like manner.   I definitely preferred the Goth movement that came in the 80s.

So what was my icon of the 70s?

Tom and Barbara Good,  from BBCs The Good Life.

I harbour dreams of smallholdings.

Of meals entirely made up of things Ive grown

Of children skipping happily down the lane in clothes I’ve made.

My reality?

When I asked oldest child why he didnt want me to knit him a,  really rather trendy,  beanie hat he said

“Because you’re a bit rubbish at knitting mum. ┬á Thelast hat you did made me look like Yoda”

My yield of strawberries this year?

IMG_20150809_163759 IMG_20150809_165023  and these are alpine strawberries too,  so basically the size of grains of rice.

Six,  admittedly flourishing in a bushy,  leafy kind of way,  tomato plants and my crop to date is?

IMG_20150803_155655

One measly tomato.

And it’s a cherry tomato, ┬áso about the size of a 5p piece

Less Tom and Barbara Good.

More Margot Leadbetter.

But all is not lost.

I can work a kaftan and a g&t.

Ahem.  :-)