Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Interestingly enough, I'm still alive

My fellow human beings, I have an apology to make: I made a blog and I failed to. That's unfortunate. Even more so since I actually return to you all in 10 days. I cannot POSSIBLY write about everything I have done as my fingers would cramp up and I wouldn't be able to eat curry with my fingers anymore. I like eating curry with my fingers. I can however, tell you some of the particularly awesome stuff that my Indian travels have bestowed upon me.
I left my monastery on the 18th of June. This was rather emotional. I didn't cry. They gave me blessing scarves and wall hangings and tea and Dressed me up as a monk and took pictures of me in the Temple. Genuinely, I was sad to leave. The monks are great folks. I've spoken of my opinion of the idea of being a monk before, and it probably came accross as negative, but thats nothing to do with the monks. They're great lads. I shall show you pictures when we get back.
Trains are good fun, we use them to get all over india. Weird bunchof people the indians though. They love a good stare. On one train, an officer in the indian army came and sat next to me, rifle and all, and had a wee gander at us. I was listening to my iPod and after a while, he asked for an ear (an earphone you understand, not an ACTUAL ear. That would be weird, even for a man with a rifle) so I passed him one. I happened to be listening to McFly. I wont apologise. Anyway, he loved it. Imagine the tableau: me nervously eyeing up a badass rifle, while the owner bobs his head to Mcfly, blissfully unaware that this is WEIRD.
We first went to Bohsgaya, which is the location of the Bhodi tree, under which the Buddha gained enlightenment. Very interesting. There is a Japanese Temple there where a monk taught us how to meditate. THAT was cool. Next up, Varanasi. Varanasi is the holiest city in the world, built next to the Ganges. It smells. We got to our hotel, and decided to visit the Ghats. These are all along the banks of the Ganges. The best way to find them is to follow the procession of dead bodies. Most of them are buned at the side of the river, but pure ones (pregnant women, children, leppers, victims of a cobra bite, and holy men) are thrown into the river with a rock tied to them. Some times the rock comes loose. We took a boat ride and saw a dead lepper floating past. Mixed feelings about that one...
Next up Kajuraho. Sex temples...too many elephants involved for my tastes...
Then Agra, Taj Mahal is awesome, So was Fatepur Sikri, an abandoned Moghul city.
We've been too so many places that i really can't do them justice in one blog. I will of COURSE be happy to talk to you at great length about it ALL when I get home. In fact its not really optional. A big fat load of one on one blogging is coming you're way people!
We're heading to Jaipur tonight, check out some forts etc etc etc. Then Udaipur, then Mumbai t get ourselves in a Bollywood film, then Kolakata, then home.
Oh, something I cant leave out: I rode a camel accross the desert. It was AMAZING. Did you know that they are more than 8 feet tall?! And some of them have serious issues with authority. And I have two words for you: Sandy, and Crack. Put them together and you have one UNPLEASANT experience!
Well, I wish I could stay and chat longer, but the bill for this internet is going to be as long as my arm, so I will bid you adieu (there's a german guy next to me. I think adieu is german. Or maybe austrian...)
Farewell and I am looking forward to seeing you all very much!

PS All of you buy cheese. I've missed cheese.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

It's Probably About Time...

So. I haven't written anything for about a month. Doing the things that I write about seems to have got in the way of writing about them. How strange.
So anyway, I'll slowly bring you up to date. When I last wrote, I was in Sikkim. I'm not anymore. We stayed with Andrew, and then moved off to Pelling, which is a wee village about 5 hours west of Gangtok. We stayed there for 2 days. It was great fun, and kind of like a mystery novel (not because we killed anyone) because you start off not knowing anyone, but because there's so few places in Pelling for tourists to go, by the end of our stay there we knew everyone. We had a particularly interesting afternoon spent in the company of the ultimate Austrian stereotype. Claus the Austrian Prison Guard. He was a great guy. We went for tomba with him which it turns out is a hard drink to find in Pelling, even though everywhere else in Sikkim its higher up the menu than water. We eventually found this shack of a cafe and asked for it, whereupon they shut the curtains, and they brought the drink up from the basement. We chatted to Claus for ages. Turns out he's head of the couch surfing movement in Vienna.
There's not actually a whole lot to do in Pelling, but we visited a monastery, and a holy lake which, because I can feel the question on your collective lips, is just like any other lake. Except it has prayer flags every where. And it smells a bit.
After Pelling, we had to get a jeep BACK to Gangtok, to go on our trek, which I will write about tomorrow. Right now, I have to go and pick up my laundry, and see a lady about a cake. That's not even a euphemism people, I'm actually going to pick up some brownies. The woman's a genius. I may have to marry her.

Woops, before I go, i'll just shock you with a political tidbit. A leader of one of the political parties here was hacked to death the other week. Scary stuff, but it's all died down now. The army are beginning to leave. I'd tell you more, but it's quite a complicated story, and it would be easier to explain it when I get home. It's really very interesting.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Sikkim etc etc etc

Okay so my last entry ended with an ominous ‘TO BE CONTINUED’. That was a lie. I got better. More or less. It’s now over 3 weeks since I got ill, and I have done, to quote Police Academy, ‘many, many things Mahoney’ (If anyone reading this is actually called Mahoney, this is your lucky day – you have just been immortalised’). So, while I was in hospital, the four girls who were working in Varanasi came up to visit. They brought me several magazines which, though I didn’t admit it at the time, I definitely read. Ashley Cole’s promising Cheryl a baby?! Fortunately I got out a day later, and we showed the Varanasi lot around, in the process of which I bought a corn on the cob (it’s very popular around here) and had it stolen by a monkey. Those little buggers are vicious, and have been added to the list of animals that I have no problem eating. This list is pretty extensive, and the only animals not on it tend to be those that don’t taste good, such as the common garden mole, which i’m told is disgusting. So anyway, on the Saturday after I was discharged, we went to the open mic afternoon at Glenary’s, and James (coerced by a very annoying Indian called Annup, who accompanied him inadequately on guitar) sang Under the Bridge by the Chillies. Good stuff.

Then followed a pretty average week of teaching, on the Thursday of which, Thupten came into one of my lessons and asked me if I would like to go to Sandakhphu with some of the Monks to perform a Puja. It sounded like a plan, so is said yes. This weekend was one of extremes, some good some bad, to the point where my overall reaction to it when I think back is ‘Meh’. The 8 our jeep ride there was something else. The jeep is one of those classis ‘engine, wheels and gearbox jobs, where comfort is not only absent, but actively opposed. I was unfortunately placed in the ‘bitch seat’. This is the seat where you have your legs either side of the gear stick. What’s that Mr driver? You want to go into second gear? Well i’m afraid that particular spot is occupied by my left testi...oh you did it anyway.

The ‘road’ points straight up the mountain, and doesn’t let up till you arrive at Sandakphu, at 13,000ft. You have to stop off in Nepal, which was cool. (That’s right visa people, if you’re reading this, screw you guys, I went anyway). Sandakhpu is, for want of a better word, a hole. Basically it’s a bunch of sheds on top of a mountain. The first evening, Thupten thought he would order himself and me a beer. He came to my room with them and locked the door so the other monks didn’t see him drinking. Sadly, and bizarrely, the good people of Sandakhphu think that because its cold, they should boil the beer before serving it. This is bad. Very bad. In fact it’s disgusting.

On my first full day there, I went on a hike into the foothills of the Himalayas, which was awesome. It was a fantastic day, and the scenery is breathtaking. At the end, however, I found a really nice grassy hummock, and fell asleep. I woke up having been turned a nice crispy red by the sun. Gooood. On the second evening I started to feel a bit ill, which was not helped by the fact that the guys in the room next to me were getting blindingly drunk from about 5 o’clock till 3am. Bad times. The next day, the taxi home was supposed to arrive at 10am. It got there at 1pm. That’s 3 hours late for those of you who are arithmetically impaired. So that was my trip to Sandakhphu.

I had one more week of teaching to do, before the two weeks off that I had taken at the start of May. At this point, the monks had begun to seriously annoy me. For no particular reason than that it was almost the halfway point, and the culture difference were trying my patience. My lessons had been moved to 9.30 every morning, and the small monks had taken to coming to my room at 9.15 and telling me to teach them. It got to the point where I had to literally throw them out. And then there’s this one mini monk who is unfortunately the smartest in his class, who likes to tell me what he wants to teach every day. He’s honestly such a knob. Pardon my French, Needless to say if he wants to learn English, he gets taught maths,

So anyway, that’s us pretty much up to date. We (James, Mike and I) left for Sikkim on Monday, and are currently staying in Gangtok with an American journalist whom we met. Gangtok is great. So clean, and it’s literally years ahead of anywhere else in India in terms of development. We’re going off to Pelling soon, and then we’re coming back to Gangtok for next Tuesday to do a trek for the rest of the second week.

Before I leave you all, I have a comment to make: toilets are supposed to be contemplative; you don’t just go there to partake in its obvious function, you go there to think. This is impossible while using a long-drop. Crouching over a hole in the ground is not conducive to epiphanies of any order. This annoys me significantly. The balance alone requires too much concentration. I am unhappy about this. And the fact that my monastery hasn’t ad water for two months and even during those brief hours where it comes back on, the monks still don’t feel the need to JUST FLUSH FOR ONCE IN THERE LIVES.

More will follow.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Monsoon Has Arrived

Hi folks, well i have many stories to tell you now. It's been an interesting week to say the least.
Basically, I was in hospital for pretty much all of last week. I should warn you that I'm going to be completely and graphically truthful in telling this tale, so if you're squeamish you may not want to read. I'd also like to take a quick second to say that genuinely, this is the illest i've been in my entire life, despite the face that i'll no doubt make light of it in the next few minutes.
Sooooo...back to the beginning. Pedong. That was last weekend. It's reeeeally nice there. Much warmer, and more colourful than Darjeeling. At this point, I was already feeling a bit ill, so I went and chilled on the grass while the rest of them played cricket with the monks. Later on we went for some chow-mein in a cafe, and for the rest of the night we hung out in our 'hotel' (shed).
The next morning we got a taxi to kalimpong, and from there, hired another taxu for the 3 hour trip back to Darj. This taxi was NOT a 4x4, and about half way through the trip, on a particularly steep part of road, the car ran out of steam. The driver looked round at me and Mike and gave his head a wee shake. It took us a minute to realise that he meant 'lads, get out and push'. Which we did. Unfortunatley, once the taxi gains momentum again its just counter-productive to slow down and let us in, so we had to run, catch it up, and hurl ourselves in to the moving vehicle. Fortunately, 'jumping into a moving vehicle' is on my list of things I want to do in life, so it's aaaall good. We had to do it again though before we got to Darj.
We stayed in Darj Sunday night, and in the morning I was feeling significantly worse, but still able to joke about it. It had now been a WEEK since I last...passed. And let me tell you OVER THE COUNTER LAXITIVES DONT WORK. I've tried them all. In a very short space of time. Any hoo, within half an hour the pain considerably increased, and I asked for a docter. James ordered one, and said it would be about 20 minutes, but 10 minutes later the receptionist came down and said it would be an hour. I managed to wait another five minutes before realising that I needed to be in a hospital NOW. I could barely stand at this point. The hotel ordered an ambulance, and Mike and the receptionist came with me. Honestly, women, giving birth has nothing on this. Not that I've ever given birth. Or have any plans to do so.
I got to the hospital, stumbled in, and promptly started vomiting EVERYWHERE. Quite a dramatic entrance really. 'I'm here. Heal me.' I was admitted pretty quickly, and they kept trying to get me to lie down, but i couldn't. Every muscle in my body was spasming, I had a very high fever, and a worryingly low blood pressure. I got hooked up to fluids, and they gave me morphine, which helped with the pain for a while, but they had to keep topping me up. Eventually, after about three pain filled, barely conscious hours, the doctor came round. Ladies and gentlemen, if you ever hear the words 'Immediate Bowel Washing', take my advice and get the hell out of there. But there's more. The doctor;s next words were: We'll start with the small tube', which begs the question: 'there's a bigger tube?!' I can now answer that question. Yes. Yes, there's a bigger tube. Let me explain exactly what this procedure involves: First, they get all the visitors out the ward. Then whichever unfortunate hospital minion has been landed with the task gets a tube, and shoves it up one of two possible orifices. And its not your mouth. THEN, into the other end of the tube, they pour a pint of salt water. Nice. I spent the next 8 hours (well into the night) evacuating my bowels in a very dramatic fashion. Unfortunately the hospital toilet was a long drop, and I was on a drip. Luckily there was a nice rusty nail for me to hang it off while I squatted. But due to the level of the nail, the flow of fluid into your veins reverses itself, and youblod starts going up the tube into the bottle. Good stuff. Not a major problem, the nurses (who are significantly more attractive than in Britain) can fic that pretty quickly.
The next morning, i was still in a lot of pain. When the doctor came around, he concluded that I had a nasty case of Cholitis, which had been the cause of my massive blockage. Unfortunately, said blockage had been masking the infection, so they didnt find it sooner. Urine tests, blood tests, and ultrasounds followed, and eventually I was put on a hefty course of drugs... TO BE CONTINUED...

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Quoth the Raven

The title of this entry is awesome because not only is it a line from Edgar Allen Poe's incredible poem 'The Raven'. But it is also the name of Death's raven in Discworld. I'm cool, I know.
Well this weekend was fun. We met a guy from Kilmarnock which was awesome, and we went to a pub which waas open to the skies, where you sit round a wee bonfire. It was great. On Saturday, it seened like a good idea for me and Mike to see how many places we could eat beans on toast in. Our count is 5 so far. I also managed to polish off 6 eggs, some grilled tomatoes and ...stop, Love Story by Taylor Swift just came on in the cafe and I must mention it... a packet of biscuits. Tell you what, the fibre certainly gets the bowels miving. I'm sorry. You didn't need to know that. But seriously.
On Sunday, we went to church, which was really good. It's a catholic church, and the minister there is a lad. He wore blue fluffy slippers while delivering his sermon. The sermon was very good actually. And we had communion there too. Because of health scares in India, communion consists of a tiny cracker dipped in wine that the minister puts in your mouth while he blesses you. His reason for the health precaution was 'its because of 'HN1...or L1...or whatever'. Funny guy. After the service everyone went outside for tea and cakes. The church is on a hill and it was a nice day so the view was incredible. Its was pretty awesome just standing chatting to the rest of the congregation. We met another Scottish person. She lives in India with her husband now, but incredibly, her dad went to GWC. Small world eh?
We went for high-tea at the Elgan, which was quite nice, but not as good as the Mayfair.
I'm now back in Ghoom for another weeks teaching (already done my fist lesson). Got up this morning in Darjeeling to get a taxi back. There were no taxis. Its a looooong uphill, 8km walk back to my monastery. In the sweltering heat. (Had to throw that in there as I know you guys have snow)
I will leave you with the advice that I keep getting given over here: Always be wary of the three W's: Water, Weather, and Women. May they serve you well.

Oh yeah, off to Pedong next weekend to visit some of the other volunteers at their placement there.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

We will polish your glass till itsa shining like brass...

Hi Lads. And ladettes. It's been a while no? No? Well a week and a half anyway. Last week was a preeetty rough week for me, my very fist 'low' of this adventure. It involved some rather unfortunate trips to various doctors and eventually a hospital, but never fear I have the all clear. And it made for a pretty interesting trip. The hospital is in Siliguru, which is three hours away by taxi (which, by the way costs about 1.40 sterling). Half an hour into the taxi drive, we crashed. (Should probably have told you about that one Parents but i didnt want to worry you!) Bloody indian drivers! Not much damage, so we were on our way again soon enough. Siliguri is down out of the mountains and it is VERY hot. Like being back in Kolkata. One day there gave me a rather fetching tan if I do say so myself. Siliguri smells. I'd fprgotten what it was like on the plains as i've been in the mountains for more than a month but my oh my it hits you like a wall and begins a relentless assault on your senses. So we got there, and I'm waiting in the hospital to go pee in a cup and these two guys wander in front of me and plonk this woman on a stretcher on the floor in front of me I found myself wandering how SHE was going to pee in a cup. Unpleasant images soon stopped those ponderings though. Once i'd been through the tests and told I was fighting fit, we went for some lunch. What never ceases to amaze me about this place is the way you can be wandering through these festering, smelly, poverty stricken side streets, go up some stairs, and suddenly your in a plush, squeaky clean, air-conditioned restaurant. In this case, it was a chinese restaurant that specialised in Taiwanese food. I had mixed rice noodles, topped off with genuine Heinz tomato ketchup. The noodles were really very good. Unfortunately we got a call from our taxi driver, who had discovered that the damage to his car was slightly more extensive than he had though. We would have to wait around for a while. We went to a 'rush market' which is very cramped and very busy, and you are constantly being assailed by men you want you to by their 'genuine' products. They are all fake. Windows Vista? I dont think so my friend, YOU dont own a computer. Afterwards we went to a shopping mall, which is pretty much identical to ones back home. I got a decent pair of shoes, and replaced the belt I gave to a guy trying to sell us weed last weekend. I thought it would get rid of him, but he just gave me his. And it scares me. Thupten, the guy I was with, then bought me this stuff which is I think called 'Puchka'. Its kind of like a hollow ball of pastry which the guy puts some kind of filling in, and then fills it up with a kind of spicy soup. You put the whole thing in your mouth and it tastes pretty awesome. By this time it was dark, so we got a rickshaw to the place where our driver was having his car fixed. He was gone. And he wasnt answering his phone. We were stuck. We ended up in a group of 12 people all wanting to get back to Darjeeling area, so one guy took the initiative and reserved us a taxi. Once in the taxi, Thupten, still annoyed at our previous driver, said the funniest words i've ever heard a monk utter: "Tomorrow, I am going to kill that bastard!" Classic monk. The drive back was good, going through the plains, with the windows down, pumping ou Bollywood music (which it turns out is pretty good) is great fun. Once back in Ghoom (OR Gloom as we call it because its always misty) i pretty much went straight to bed. Long day. Now I plan to enjoy my weekend. I think an afternoon at the Mayfair is in order. The head waiter knows us there now, and waits on us hand and foot because we tip him so well. He has even worked out how long it takes us to finish our drinks so that he brings another one just as we finish the first. I think we'll try out this pizza place we found, because I hear its owned by an Italian, so we should get some real pizza. There''s also a pub called Joey's which is a great place to meet fellow foreigners and ridicule the various bizzare aspects of Indian society without the fear of incurring the wrath of the locals. I am, however, starting to adopt the classic Indian head bobble. You learn to love it. See you all later. One last thing...my love of Roald Dahl has caused me to begin teaching the monklets poems from his books. It has breathed new life into the classroom. Not sure is they like it though...

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Indigo (Not a primary colour - thought i'd branch out)

Hi everyone. It's me again. Had a fun week last week. Taught Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then on Friday I went to Rimbick to visit my brother monastery. The drive is three and a half hours, and its lower than Ghoom, so much hotter. The monastery is really cool and having a lot of extension work done to it. Had tea with the abbot fellow and then went to play a bit of cricket with the monks Very hot, but the view from the pitch was awesome - straight down the mountain. Afterwards we went for cheese momos at a wee restaurant where John Major ate when he visited a few years back.
On Friday night I met up with the rest of the teachers and we went for a meal in an Indian restaurant. I needed a pee, and had to literally go through a buildingsite to get to the toilet. And behind the toilet was the kitchen. Which means our food had to g0 past the toilet and through a buildingsite to get to us. Good times.
On Saturday we took a trip to the Tibetan Refugee Centre. That was possible one of the best things I've done yet. These people are all old enough to have actually fled Tibet during the exile, and when you look at them they just look like they want to be, and should be somewhere else Me and Mike met this guy who talked to us all about what was going on, and eventually sort of ended up giving us his views on life, the universe and everything. It was amazing. Sort of conversation that you remember for a loooong time.
Saturday night we went to the live music at glenary's, and then out for a meal paid for by Lattitude. During the live music we met those Tibetan lads I told you about a while back. The rich guy has invited me and Mike to go to his Tea Estate next weekend to go fishing and have a bonfire. The meal we had was questionable at best. I went for the mixed meat grill. Not one thing on that plate was actually what it claimed to be What I can only assume was supposed to be the mutton (eugh) was just a big bone.
Today we went to the zee. I saw red pandas, monkeys, bears, and pheasants for some odd reason. Normally the only time i see pheasants is shortly before they collide with my car. Afterwards we went to the Mayfair hotel for a we bite to eat. This place is like the cream of indian hotels. Soooo nice. 9000 rupees a night. Half way through our sandwiches these two monkeys jumped down and started to eat the peanuts from a bowl on our table! One of them started eyeing up my sandwich and i was ready to punch him in the face, but they scarpered Must've seen the glint in my eyes I liked my sandwiches. All through this James was squealing and asking for permission from the monkeys to leave the table. It was an admirable display of courage. Anyhoo back in Ghoom now, for another week of teaching those darling monks. They're alriiiight really. I'll post again in a week or so. And remember You Can't Stop The Signal. Anyone who gets that film reference will get a prize sent to them personally, by me, from India.