An Introduction to Buddhism and meditation.

I’ve just spent 10 days in silence. Actual silence. No talking, no communicating with anyone. You might find this funny. Or wonder how I did it. You see, I like to talk. I like to chat. I like to ask questions. 10 days is a long time. A really long time. Nearly two weeks. Believe me, I thought all these things and I was a little bit scared about whether I was up to it. But hang on, let’s step back a bit. Because you’re probably wondering why and what for.

When I was in Manali a couple of weeks ago I stumbled upon the website for Tushita Meditation Centre, which advertises Introduction to Buddhism courses. It is just outside Mcleodganj, home to the exiled Tibetan government and Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet. I knew I was heading this way and it got me interested. I knew I had about two weeks left in India, and was looking at what to do with the time, the next course started in a few days and would fit right in with my dates. It would leave me enough extra time to explore Mcleodganj before heading back to Delhi.

I knew nothing about Buddhism or meditation. I’m slightly ashamed to admit although I had heard of the Dalai Lama I didn’t really know who he was or what he did. I certainly knew nothing about the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the reasons he was in India. I felt very uneducated – how did I get to 32 without knowing about these things? And why? So, I took the plunge and signed up. A few days later I found myself with around 54 other people starting a 10 day course that would be a mix of teachings about Buddhism and meditation sessions, ending with a 2 day meditation retreat. In silence. They stress that a lot. It would be a challenge, but wasn’t that why I came travelling? To learn, to experience new things and give myself a kick up the arse?

I’ve been thinking about what to write in this blog post for a couple of days now. And I’m still no clearer. There’s so much but so little. It was a very personal thing, lots of self reflecting and looking inside, and I’m not sure how much I want to share. But, I want to let you guys know what it was like.

Before all the in-depth stuff, here’s some basics:

  • The centre is in the middle of the woods on the side of a mountain. It’s very peaceful, quiet and out of the way. Mum, I kept an eye out for any pygmy activity. You’ll be pleased to know there wasn’t any. Just monkeys. Lots of them, including teeny tiny baby ones. They provided a lot of entertainment.
  • There was lots of food. This was good. If anyone from Zambia is reading this, you’ll be pleased to know there was peanut butter. But, it was not peanut butter as we know it. No, I think this was proper, home made peanut butter, so not so sweet. In fact, not sweet at all. I mixed it with honey to make it sweeter. Unfortunately this made it look like baby sick or dog doo but I didn’t care, because, damn, it tasted gooood. I think I’m having withdrawals now.
  • I couldn’t run for 10 days. No real exercise, apart from walking up and down some steps a lot. There was a lot of sitting in a meditation position. I have never had pins and needles so many times.
  • There was the most amazing thunderstorm on the second night. I was too tired to stay awake for it all, but caught a glimpse of loads of lightening flashing through a forest. Incredible.
  • I didn’t miss technology. No really, I didn’t. Well, not until the very end at least.
  • We all had jobs to do each day to help keep the centre clean and tidy. Mine was cleaning the windows of the gompa (meditation hall). This was good; I didn’t envy the people who had to clean the toilets that 55 people used all day.

So firstly, the Silence. The big Silence. It is mentioned A.Lot on the website, and in the information and in the induction. And rightly so, it is a huge part of the course. It’s designed so you can get the most out of everything, have silence to focus and reflect on what you’re learning and your reactions and thoughts about it. How did I find it? Actually, easier than I thought. When everyone around you is also silent, it is easier. It was easier to not think about how long you had to be silent for though, as it just seemed so long, so I put that out of my mind. I didn’t break the silence, although other people did. Not majorly, just hushed whispers every now and then. But I’m surprised how much this unsettled me; I didn’t like it. It was really disruptive and it’s amazing how a mere whisper can seem like shouting when you’ve been in silence for a while. The only time it got to me was Day 9 at about lunchtime. It was nearly the end of the course, I was ready to talk to people and my brain had just about had enough of thinking. It had reflected all it could reflect, there was nothing but meditation sessions and long breaks and nothing to distract it. I had a bit of a moment where I was just desperate for a distraction; to stop me being aware of my own thoughts and inner monologue. But, it lasted about an hour and then went. But boy, was I pleased to start talking again the next day. I think I talked like a non-stop train as soon as we could. No, I don’t think, I know I did. Sorry to the guys at breakfast, I’m not sure they got a word in.

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Having to be silent meant I was much more aware of the thoughts in my head. Now, I knew that my brain was often full of things, but, well, let’s just say there’s lots and lots in there. Although, I can definitely tell it’s slowed down now. It doesn’t feel so full or manic, not so much stuff to process or all whizzing round at the same time. No lists of things to do or things to remember. And I think this course has definitely helped with that. It’s slowed my mind down. Organised it a bit. I remember, back in Lincoln at various points over the last 18 months or so, there were many times where I just wanted, no needed, to stop. This overwhelming urge to stop my mind for a bit, just a minute, so I can think clearly, take everything out and sort it all out into some kind of order and put it back in. To look at everything, see the bigger picture and figure out how to do it all. But every time I tried to do it, I couldn’t. My thoughts were so jumbled, that even if I tried, I could never manage it. Other thoughts would take over and I’d just never manage to unscramble it, my concentration would never last and there was always something to distract me. The ultimate procrastinator. Which was frustrating. Never being able to achieve it. Until now. I’ve had that break. Now is that time, that peace and quiet. I feel like I’ve finally stopped and put some thoughts in order. Unjumbled my jumbled mind. And how lovely that feels. I’ve started to think about one thing, and one thing only, at a time. Focus on that one thing. And I know now, that I can put some things to rest. Let them go out of my head once and for all, because they’re organised and sorted now in the right place, with a sense of clarity. Tis’ wonderful.

Meditating was interesting. Actually, really hard work. For all those people who think meditating is relaxing and just closing your eyes, zoning out and going to sleep, think again. We did two types: Stablising and Analysing. Stabilising is where you focus on one thing (the breath) and try to remove any other thoughts out of your mind, and just be completely in the moment. Hmph. Easier said than done. They are always there, these thoughts. It’s really hard to stop them just popping in. And they are so random, mine were a huge mix of things from childhood memories, to people, to things I will be doing, to future plans, to things I remember from dreams and anything in between. Analysing meditation is where you analyse certain questions and topics, guided by the meditation leader. This is more interesting as your subconscious is there to help you figure things out and think of things in a different way. I liked this, it helped with putting a few things to bed for me, once and for all. There was one meditation session that we did where the group chanted a mantra. It was one of the most beautiful things I had heard, and very powerful. I’ll not forget that moment in a hurry.

After one session I felt so completely peaceful and content, it was just blissful. I can’t quite describe it well, but I felt just so, well, happy and calm. Almost a bit like being drugged, or in a trance. I can’t remember exactly what the content of the meditation was (I didn’t write that down), but it doesn’t really matter. What I noted down was that I felt so relaxed and content. Content with my life, with myself, in my choices and who I am. Happy and more understanding of me, and how I live my life and how I will find solutions. Like everything is starting to make sense, and is less chaotic and more ordered.

Starting out on my travels I knew I wanted to spend my time helping people. Not just while travelling, but afterwards, when I have to work. I know I want a job that’s worthwhile, that’s helping, that’s making a difference. This course has really helped reaffirm this. I knew it, but before it almost seemed like empty words. Not saying I wouldn’t, but just not with that 100% knowing with my heart. And that’s what I know now. I feel it. Helping other people is what makes me happy, simple as. It always has, this has just confirmed it.

Has this been a spiritual experience for me? Yes, but not in a religious way as such. It’s been an experience that I’ve felt in my heart and mind, and has left me feeling more content, richer, with a deeper understanding of me and my thoughts. I feel so lucky that I took this opportunity, and I reckon that it’s going to give me a great basis for the rest of my travels in the things that I do and the experiences that I seek and have. I feel I’ve got more of a purpose, I’m not just floating. I don’t just want to visit places and sights to take a picture, to say I’ve been there and move on. That seems terribly self-indulgent. I want to learn about places, speak to people, experience a place and life there. I’m aware of my actions and motivations, and the consequences. Oh, there’s still loads I don’t know, or haven’t figured out, but that’s the fun. That’s what I’ll be doing. I’ll just be a bit better equipped, and on the right path.

There’s a great quote from HH. The Dalai Lama – “Don’t try to use what you’ve learnt from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to become a better whatever-you-are”.

He also said that Buddhism is like training in altruism. I think this sums it up perfectly for me; I don’t want to become a Buddhist. But, through this course, I’ve learnt so much in so many ways, all of which will help me become a better person. One who can give back to other people. A kinder person, a more generous person. A person who will spend more time thinking of others. Because, the Buddhists are right, that is what makes someone truly happy.

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Going offline.

I’m going offline for 10 days as I’m going to a retreat near Mcleod Ganj for a bit of an Introduction to Buddhism and meditation. There’s no communication allowed with the outside world, so I’ll be back on line towards the end of the month, with updates of course!

Stay happy 🙂

 

Runs around the world #7

Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India

So, my second run in India was in Manali, further up into the mountains in Himachal Pradesh. I’ve certainly not been running as much as I would like in India. But, in my defence, it’s been hard terrain everywhere so far. I know, I know, it’s a weak excuse, and perhaps you’re thinking I should have just got on with it. I do love running on all different surfaces and climates right? But really, it has been tough. Hot and so incredibly humid in Delhi, then foggy, hilly and full of people staring in Shimla. So what about Manali? Well, I’d already decided to run early in the morning to stop the stares, so that’s that issue taken care of (although there’s always a few people out who will stare; it’s inevitable). And the weather here in Manali has been much better than Shimla. No fog and not much rain. Nice and cool in the mornings, and then sunshine later on most days. So, should be good for running right? Well, yes. But.

Yep, you know there’s a but. Bloody hell is it hilly here. Well, it is in the middle of the mountains of course, I know that. The scenery here is just stunning, but hills make it hard to run, if that’s the only running you can do. Sure, hills are great as part of a training program, to be added in with long runs, flat runs and speed work. But hills all the time? Hard work, right? You bet. Because it’s not just little gradients. Lincolnshire people, they are like Steep Hill. First, imagine running up Steep Hill. Then, make Steep Hill about 3 times as long. So, run continuously up that. Then down. Then up again. Oh, and make it at 2000m altitude. Now, what do you reckon. Easy or hard, haha?

I’ve been here a week and will have done two runs. That doesn’t sound like a lot, and it isn’t. I’m disappointed in myself really. But, to be honest, I’m not quite sure where the days have gone, and why I haven’t run more. A couple of mornings I’ve enjoyed a lie in. I spent a couple of days on long, hilly scrambles walks up the mountains and so my legs were aching. I did yoga one morning instead. I do wish I’d done more running. But, you know what? I’m proud of what I have done. It’s no secret that hill running isn’t my favourite. So, getting to the top of the hill at the end of 3 miles, of which the latter half was uphill, lungs bursting and legs burning, was a great feeling, almost an achievement. Sure, it’s a short run, and sure, I’ve done hill sprints before but this was different. This was long, continuous steep gradients. A total elevation climb of 540ft. This was difficult and challenging and I did it!

I have to class this as one of my most scenic runs so far. Running past tree-covered mountains in the background and along the Beas River, the roar of the rapids in my ears.  Running through the Manali nature park, marvelling at it’s tall trees stretching as far as I could see to the sky, the rocks on the ground smattered with the morning sunshine. Running past people meditating and doing morning yoga, oblivious to my presence. Propelling myself up the hill, I glanced over my shoulder to see the mountains in the distance, hazy in the morning mist. I stopped to take a picture, all the while thinking, lucky me. Lucky, lucky me.

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Technology and travelling.

Over the last few days I’ve been pondering about travelling and technology. How interlinked they are. Do we need technology to travel?

Obviously, most tech that people use while travelling has only been around for a short while, but people have been travelling for years. So what did they used to do? How did they do it? That’s a question I asked myself. Because, I don’t know. I don’t think I could. In the short time I’ve been travelling, I’ve relied on my technology a HUGE amount. For all kinds of different reasons; booking accommodation and transport, keeping in touch with people,   entertainment, checking the weather, finding out things to do, places to go, where to eat, whether I’m in the right place, and so on. Now, OK, I’ve not used it for everything. There’s been many a time over the last few weeks that I’ve looked at a paper map, or asked people where I need to go, or what to do, or read things in a book.

The few days I had in Shimla were [mainly] without internet access. I admit, I felt weird. Disconnected. Out of the loop. Unable to just check things. Cut off.

Surely this is crazy? Surely being ‘connected’ with the world through the internet can mean that actually you’re not ‘connected’ with the place you’re in? I’m conflicted on this. On one hand, yes. I know myself that I can miss things in the moment because of a need to see what’s going on elsewhere, and I have to remind myself to bring myself back to where I am. And concentrate. I know I made more of an effort with this in the UK in the few months before I left. Such as, leaving my phone in my bag if I was out for a meal with a friend, that kind of thing.

But, on the other hand, I like to share stuff. I like that people share things with me. I’m nosy, I like to see what people are up to, share in their good times, be a part of their lives and marvel at all the cool things that are going on. My mates are one of the most important things to me and I want to keep in touch with them. I’m away from a year; I can’t go without speaking or communicating in some way with all my friends and family. Would you want to?

I’ve met people while I’ve been away who aren’t travelling with any technology. But, they admit to having to use internet cafes to source and book things like accommodation and transport. I’ve met people who have been travelling over the last 30+ years and told me about how they would keep in touch (or not, much was the case) years ago while on the road.

I’m also using technology to branch out into things I don’t normally do. To make contacts with people all across the world, some of who in countries I will be visiting. To start building networks. To contribute to projects. To perhaps start building a new career. Maybe even start applying for jobs. And of course, to keep you, my family and friends, updated. I do, naturally, recognise the irony of sitting typing this on my laptop.

So, for me, technology while travelling is really important. And no, I couldn’t travel without it. But, I am going to try to make sure I really immerse myself in the places I visit and the things I do and the experiences I have, and live in the moment. Use technology where it should be used. Hopefully the weird, disconnected feeling with reduce with time and I’ll get used to not being connected 24/7. If one of my plans pans out, I may be spending 10 days in the very near future without access to anything. Perhaps that will be the ultimate test!

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The adventures of Shimla.

Settle down with a cup of tea, put your feet up and relax, this might be a long one. I spent a strange few days in a place called Shimla and there’s plenty to tell. Shimla was the British Summer Holiday capital back in the day of British rule, and is still a very popular holiday place for people all across India. Lincolnshire people, it’s kind of like an Indian version of Skegvegas, with pony rides, ice creams, stalls selling tourist tat etc. Oh, and rain and fog in monsoon season (i.e. now). Only this place has amazing views of the Himalayan ranges and no beach.

To get there I took two trains, totalling about 9 hours travelling time. This might sound horrific but it’s not so bad, India is such a big country to get around and I’m kind of used to lots of travelling time now. The second train was the Shimla Toy Train. It doesn’t cover a big distance but it takes ages because it winds through the mountains, over bridges and through loads of tunnels. 103 tunnels to be precise. It was much fun, if not a bit crowded, on tiny bench seats and I was squashed in with an Indian family. Not the comfiest, plus they had a screaming baby but, they shared their lunch with me, which was 1) a bonus and 2) delicious. And the baby stopped screaming after a while. They couldn’t speak much English, I don’t speak Hindi but we got by OK.

The journey was fine, peaceful and not too hot. But, about 20 minutes outside Shimla I saw a load of black smoke starting to billow out the engine and we ground to a halt. So, there we sat, in the middle of the forest for about an hour and a half, all the time it was getting darker and I had no way of letting the family I was staying with that I was going to be late. Because, for this bit of the trip, I had decided to do a bit of couchsurfing. Couchsurfing is an online travel community of people that open their homes to other travellers and let them stay. I’d registered back before Christmas as it seemed a cool thing to do, a way to meet real people and also to save a bit of cash. I’m not sure what made me have a look at Counchsurfing while I was in Delhi but I did, and I found a lady who lived with her husband and two daughters who were also involved with an NGO (non-governmen organisation) that helped with education and empowerment of women and villages. This sounded right up my street and interesting, especially after what I’d just done in Africa so I sent a request, it got accepted and off I went. I managed to find her place eventually in the dark with the help of a kindly guy at the train station who walked the 20 or so minutes with me (uphill, in the humid fog). I was expecting him to try to make me go to some other accommodation, or ask for money but he didn’t. I was surprised; in my experience so far it seems the majority of people in India only want to talk or be helpful because they want something. So that made a nice change.

Sandeepan (the lady I was due to stay with) had received unexpected house guests since accepting my request so when I got there she had arranged for me to stay with another couchsurfer, Aruna, who lived a few minutes away. So, after feeding me lovely food (very welcome after a day’s travelling) I went off to Aruna’s place, where I was instantly made me feel very welcome. Aruna is a retired teacher and lives with her husband smack bang in the middle of town. I ended up spending the next 4 nights at her house, where she made me the most delicious chai (and biscuits) and home cooked indian food. It’s not quite like we get in the Indian restaurants back home. I tried all sorts of things, all veg (in India, you are either Veg or Non-Veg), some with local vegetables only found in that region, some with more widely found across India. I spent one morning with her in the kitchen watching her cook, with her talking through everything she was doing. I learnt so much, and she made it all look so easy! When I get back to England I’m definitely going to try and have a go. One thing was evident; there is no wastage. Everything, and I mean everything, gets eaten or saved for another meal. Top tip for sweet lovers: mix sugar with any leftover rice for a quick easy sweet after your meal. It tastes very similar to rice pudding.

I learnt lots about Aruna, her family, her religion, India and Shimla. It was so interesting and so different to just staying in a hotel or guest house; for a few days I got to experience real Indian life, including proper food, squat toilets and a shower which was just a jug and a tub of warm water. Not sure there’s any price you can put on that.

I also helped out with some things for the NGO (Wahoe Commune). This is where it became a bit of an adventure. A mixture of my scepticism (well, as I mentioned, my experience in India had previously been that people just wanted things from you) and communication between two different cultures. At times, it felt a bit ‘hard-sell’ for the ngo. Like I should be contributing financially, which kind of goes against what couch surfing is all about, although it wasn’t specifically said so I think this may have been more my issue or interpretation.

I ended up helping out though, not necessarily financially but with my time, which I was happy to do. It all came about a bit strange though. I’ve found that Indians tend to say statements rather than questions, so I was told that I was to accompany Sandeepan’s husband later that day to some accommodation outside of Shimla that they were thinking of offering to their volunteers as somewhere to relax for a few days before or after their volunteering stints. To take pictures and also to let them know what I thought of it, presumably as an English person (and potential volunteer). With nothing else to do, and a unplanned stay, I figured why not? So, the first day I found myself in a car with 4 Indian men heading away from Shimla to a remote village. Erm, yeah, as I’m sure you can imagine, at this point I wondered what the hell I had managed to get myself into. Yep, images of those headlines of gang rape in India from the newspapers flashed into my head. But, I thought, I’d met this guy’s wife and kids and been to their home so it all had to be OK, right? <weak laugh> So, I get to the accommodation, to then be led to an empty accommodation block. This is not getting any better. Imagination going a bit overdrive. But, I took some pictures, we chatted about the room a bit. Then, we got brought chai (tea). Hmm. Is it drugged? I was cursing my overactive sceptical brain. Then, Guvinder tells me he wants to offer me some spiritual healing. Right now. Doesn’t quite tell me what’s involved but says we can have a short session to find out what my chakra is like (energy). He had been telling me about his journey with spiritualism on the way over. I cynically ask if he will charge. He says not for this, as I am helping him out. But, if I want a whole course, then yes, it will. Hmm. But, in the sense of adventure, I decide to go with the flow (noting an escape route of course, just in case). After that first session, we went back to that accommodation twice, both to take more photos (with banners and things) and also for another two sessions of healing.

Now, I’m not going to describe right now what was involved, as I apparently should have 40 days to process it, and not talk about what goes on in the healing until after those days are up. And, no matter what I think about it, I’m going to give the process that respect. But, let’s just say, sat in a room with views over the Himalaya’s, sometimes in my underwear (!) it’s one of the most bizarre yet interesting things I’ve experienced, and has certainly made me think.

One of the trips to the accommodation was done by public bus, the others by car, all of which were an experience. Tight, twisty mountain roads, filled with lorries, people, cows and everything in between. I will never forget coming back with the sun setting over the Himalayan ranges; it was so stunningly beautiful. Or the trip back on the bus; in a monsoon downpour, the bus was hurtling (and yes, that’s an accurate description) round the corners in heavy rain, people flailing all over the place, Indian music blasting out and incense sticks burning. Oh, and if people want to overtake here in India, they just beep their horn and go for it, even on blind corners. If they find something coming, they just stop. And the roads are so narrow, sometimes the buses are nearly touching when passing. Like, you couldn’t even get a fag packet between them. Those trips to the mountains were truly an experience I won’t forget.

So, apart from helping out, thinking I might get gang raped or die on the roads, what else did I do in Shimla?

Well, I had a good explore down all the roads and side streets and just a general wander around. I climbed to Jakoo Temple (monkey temple) at the top of one of the mountains where there were gorgeous views, a huge statue and lots of monkeys, who, if you weren’t careful, would steal your stuff. I had a stick to ward them off, luckily I had no need to swing it round like a light saber. Pity. I could have been Princess Leia.

After 4 nights I decided it was time to move on. I was debating whether to volunteer at one of the Wahoe community projects for a while but I really felt like I needed some time alone, to myself. My adventures in Shimla had got me thinking about all sorts of things and I needed some space. I feel sad that I had been so sceptical of everything, but I’m not sure how to fix that. Or whether I should? I need to keep myself safe, and can’t just go accepting every invitation or presuming everyone has good intentions, we know the world isn’t like that.

So, with a ton of memories I said goodbye to my generous hosts and hopped on a bus headed for Manali, even further into the mountains.

Shimla Toy Train

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Statue at Jakoo

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Sunset over the mountains

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Runs around the world #6

Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India

My first run in India! There was no way I was running in Delhi. It was just too hot and humid. I know that sounds like a cop out but me and running in heat don’t mix that well. Add in humidity and I would have been a goner. I suspect I might have collapsed. So, I had a few days rest then when I got to the mountains where it was significantly cooler I headed out for a little run.

There’s a few things I’ve figured out about running in India. It’s not really widespread as a hobby that people do for fun. Certainly not out in the smaller areas for sure. So, my main tip is to go early in the morning. Mainly because a) it avoids getting stared at any more than normal (especially as a woman in running gear) as there’s not so many people about and b) it is cooler and less humid.

So this run was at 5:30am in a foggy Shimla. I admit, it was a bit of a wrench to set my alarm that early! But, I was desperate to run. I couldn’t remember how long it had been since I’d ran. A week? Just under, just over? It had felt like a while; Africa was the last place I ran and that seemed a lifetime ago.

In Shimla, I stayed just off a main road called The Mall, which is the main road in the centre, where all the shops and stuff are based. So, a long road that is a bit up and down. I’d walked up and down in the previous day on a bit of an explore so it seemed a sensible choice for a run. Run out for a mile or so, then run back. My new minimum distance I’ve set myself on my travels is now 2 miles, so I knew I had to run out at least a mile. It wasn’t too bad. It felt good to be running in a straight line, rather than a circle like Africa, but the little hills were quite tough, both on my legs and lungs. But, in the strange way that only people who push themselves through exercise will know, it feels GOOD. Shimla’s got an average altitude of around 2400m so that’s not too shabby to be running around in.

And the views of the mountains in the early morning mist were pretty special (what I could actually see through the mist), and I ran past a few monkeys scrabbling around for scraps, as well as a few bemused people out on an early morning walk. I ended up doing just over 3 miles in the end, which was good enough for me. Enough to keep me in the habit and keep the muscles and lungs working until I can get to somewhere where I can either go more regularly or pick up the miles again. Unfortunately I suspect that might be a while yet.

When I got back to where I was staying I decided to go back to bed. Now that’s something I’ve never been able to do before! Normally a run at that time is followed by a day at work or a busy day at the weekend. Luxury!

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Delhi. How you surprised me.

So, I arrived in Delhi. Or, rather, I was hit smack bang in the face by Delhi after around 18 hours travelling. It’s what people say. India, culture shock. Loud, noisy, smelly, dirty, bright, colourful and lots of people, animals and litter. Which, if you’re not used to it or haven’t been anywhere like it before, can be a bit of an assault on the senses. All of them.

And it’s exactly that. Like a punch in the face, you know you’re in Delhi.

It’s loud and noisy: scooters, rickshaws and cars are all beeping their horns. Constantly. Street sellers are shouting, people are shouting.

It’s smelly: all kinds of smells. Walking down a small part of one street I can smell spices, incense, food, sewage, animals and rotting food, all one after another.

It’s dirty: there is litter everywhere. Mud, crap you name it, it’s there. There are open urinals at a lot of the entrances to side streets, which, I’m sure you can imagine, has a certain smell in 35+ degree heat. Some of them are right next to food carts. Nice.

It’s bright and colourful: from the many millions of shops selling clothes, saris, scarves and fabric of all colours and patterns to the most wonderfully bright saris and clothes worn by the Indian women and the different colours of the buildings and rickshaws, there is colour galore here. How I’d love to visit during Holi where the streets and everything in them get covered in multi coloured powder.

There are lots of people and animals: everywhere. Day and night. Well, 16.75 million people do live here after all. So, imagine your home town as busy as it can be. Maybe the High Street. Got that picture? Good. Now imagine everyone walking in opposite directions, then changing, walking on the road, trying to get your attention, stopping or walking in front of you. Then add in a few cows. Some dogs. Maybe some small children. People sat on the ground. Then add in bikes, cars, rickshaws and scooters. Oh, and this High Street is sometimes only 10 feet wide. Yes, it’s a bit crazy.

But, you know what? I LOVE it. I really do. It’s so crazy, so busy and bustling, so hot and humid but it’s intriguing and alive. It’s real life. Real life that’s so completely different to my own, it’s wonderful to be able to be a part of it for a short while. To experience it myself, right here, right now. Not through TV, or a book, or someone else’s photos. But to live and breathe it. Smells and all.

I’ve been here two days, part of which was spent catching up on sleep. But I’ve seen so much already. I’ve wandered around the backstreets of Old Delhi, spent time with the chipmunks at the Red Fort, marvelled at the Bahá’í House of Worship (Lotus Temple), strolled down Rajpath with an ice cream after finding the India Gate, bought a scarf for 66p and enjoyed zipping around Delhi on the Metro. Every time I step outside the hotel there’s something new to see or experience. Here’s just a few examples:

  • A boy having a fight with a goat.
  • Live chickens in a cage for sale.
  • Quite a few cows (they are sacred here).
  • A man with a stuck on beard (why?).
  • The women only carriages on the Metro. Much less crowded that the mixed ones, and with air con. Bliss!
  • Many inappropriately named shops (for example: Doggy Style Hot Dog Shop or Shag En Beauty Shop)
  • Nearly being mowed down by a scooter. And rickshaw. And car. You get the idea.
  • I’ve been chatted to by many different people; all men. The majority of the time they’re trying to scam you, by trying to send you to different agencies, to get more money off you. They see a westerner, especially a woman and think money, unfortunately. A chap read my aura this afternoon. He was quite good, wrote things on paper then asked me questions and all the answers on the paper were right. He also said I am sincere and have a good heart but lack concentration and my head is full of butterflies, which I’d say does just about sum me up, especially right now. I told him from the very off I didn’t have any money, he said he wasn’t after money. Eventually, he was going to tell me the secret of how I could sort my ‘insane’ brain out, but I’d have to pay. Surprise surprise. Have to say, I was intrigued at what he would say but wasn’t prepared to pay for it. And I’m not sure I want to fix myself, I’m quite happy how I am, butterflies and all.
  • I was invited out for a drink by a chap who started chatting to me along the road. I politely declined, but it’s been a while since anyone has asked me out, haha. Incidentally, after telling him I wanted a quiet night and meal alone, a German guy called Mark joined me and I chatted to him all night. But, not quite the same. Mark was a traveller too, on his way to trek in Ladakh, and had a girlfriend.
  • Two guys who worked at the railway station tried their hardest to scam me when I went to get my train tickets. They stopped me before I could get to the building to say the Tourist Information Office (where you buy tickets and which there are signs for) has moved, and showed me on a map where to go and tried to get a rickshaw to take me. They were very good but I’d read about the scam before, and had been given directions from the chap at my hotel (which, by the way was great. Clean, great location, great staff – can’t fault it). They still stopped me from going any further so I decided to go back to the hotel, check with the staff again exactly where I needed to go. I went back, avoided the crowds outside and managed to get inside to where I needed to be. Not everyone was so lucky; a couple of girls at the hotel had just been ripped off by this scam. I can see why; they’re very convincing, especially when they work at the station.
  • I got stared at A LOT. All westerners do, especially women by the Indian men. It’s just how things are, and you get used to it. A lot of them will try to chat to you, shout out. You just have to perfect the art of walking along and ignoring.
  • Despite the above. I’ve never felt unsafe. Not even once. Not walking around at night by myself, or when walking through the tiny backstreets of Old Delhi and being the only westerner around.

I’m leaving tomorrow. I’ll be spending nearly 9 hours on two trains to go to a place called Shimla up in the mountains. I’ll be pleased to escape the Delhi heat and humidity.  You know that feeling when you open an oven that’s been cooking something for a while and you get hit in the face with that host blast of air? Well that’s kind of what it’s like here. It certainly was the first night I was here in my room, no air con and just a fan blowing very hot air around. I relented and went to pay the extra to have the air con. So, so pleased I did. It’s only an extra £2.70 a night, but, when the hotel room is only costing £6 a night it’s quite a bit extra. Bloody worth it for my sanity and sleep though.

So, it’s fair to say I’ve enjoyed Delhi, and will most likely be back here for a day again before I fly onto China at the end of the month. I’m looking forward to the mountains though, and train ride number 2: the Shimla Toy Train. Although a relatively short journey in km, it takes hours. It’s twisty, goes over bridges and through tunnels (103 of them), all in, as I understand it, pretty cool scenery. Let’s hope so, I do like a good landscape.

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Bahá’í House of Worship (Named The Lotus Temple, because it’s shaped like a lotus flower)SONY DSC

Waiting for the women only carriage of the MetroIMG_4857

The Red FortSONY DSC

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Airport stopover.

Or layover. Not quite sure what the proper term is but I’ve heard layover lots, so I’m going with that. It might be American. I love airports, I love flying. Which, is a good job really because I’ll be doing a fair bit of it this year. I’m not enjoying the screaming child nearby though but I’m trying to tune that out.

I’ve just got off my 8 hour flight from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi, and have a few hours to kill in the airport now before getting on my next flight (only a short one: 3 1/2 hours) to Delhi. The last flight was with Etihad, I’ve not flown with them before. I’d recommend; it was a great flight, decent food, plenty of drink, great entertainment plus there was no one behind or next to me so I could stretch out like a mofo. Oh, and the headphones were the best I’ve had so far. These ones didn’t make my hair go static. Always a win.

I like to people watch at airports. Wonder where people have been, or where they are going and why. Sometimes I get to find out, if I start chatting to people. And, like I’ve said before, great things happen when you just talk to people. Like my flight yesterday from Livingstone to Johannesburg. I helped a man with his cable tie at the check in desk (he’d put it on the wrong way round and was struggling with it) and ended up sat next to him on the flight. We chatted a bit; he was going home to SA after a fishing trip in Livingstone, I told him about my travel plans. After I picked up my bags in Joburg I needed to call the place I was staying at to arrange an airport pick up, he helped me out by letting me call from his mobile phone. Just one example. Oh, and if you’re wondering what he was doing with a cable tie, it’s because he was flying into Joburg. Can never be too careful with bags there so he was tying his zips together. I didn’t point out that they could just slash his [material] bag, but hey, at least it’s something I guess.

Abu Dhabi was HOT when I got off the plane, it’s around 37 degrees here (and it’s the evening). I think Delhi is about the same temperature. Oooooo. I might be glad I’m off up into the mountains. I was moaning about Johannesburg being cold yesterday but, well, high 30’s is maybe just a leeeetle too hot. We’ll see.

The airport here has free wifi throughout. GREAT idea. I wish all airports did this. It’s certainly making the time go quicker, and I have an article to write.

I miss Africa, but I’m excited now about India. I suspect by the time I arrive there tomorrow morning (6am Indian time, 3am ish African time, 2am ish UK time) I’ll just want to sleep but I’m going to force myself to get out and about in Delhi for the day and try and adjust to the new time. I can’t WAIT for the food. I’m hungry now just thinking about it.

Time to leave.

It’s just about time to leave Zambia, which has been my home for the last 4 weeks. On Tuesday I fly back to Johannesburg where I stay for a night before flying onwards to Delhi (via Abu Dhabi) on Wednesday.

I’ve had a blast. Of course I have. 4 weeks. 1 month. It sounds like a long time but it’s not really. It’s gone so quick. It doesn’t seem like 5 minutes since I was arriving here in the back of a pick up with 7 other newbies, all excited for our adventure, not knowing what to expect. It’s been an incredible experience. Chocked full of laughter, lions, children, culture, sun, dust, African wildlife, beer, cold showers, chocolate, waterfalls and bungee jumping.

I’ve learnt a lot; about myself and other people. About Zambia and it’s animals, people and communities. I’m so pleased I did it. So pleased I had that epiphany in that meeting at work just before Christmas. That’s when I knew I had to do something. More specifically, it was then that I knew that part of that doing something was to come to Africa to do some volunteering. I have no regrets at all. None whatsoever. I have so many new memories now that I will treasure forever. I can’t write them all down but here’s just a small selection:

  • The great English vs American pronunciation debate. It never got boring.
  • Riding around in the back of a pick up to get to places. Sometimes stood up, sometimes sat down, sometimes sat on the edge, sun and wind blasting our faces. It reminded me of being little and my Dad’s red pick up that he used to have. Not sure whether I ever sat and rode around in the back though.
  • Andrew washing his hands with toilet cleaner after Firebreak. So funny, especially when we then spent the evening waiting to see if his hands would either a) start to peel b) go red c) burn or d) fall off. Luckily, they didn’t.
  • Nino (sp?) is boy in Spanish. It also means lady bits here in Zambia in one of their local languages.
  • Jamie falling off his chair while we were playing Pictionary. Loudest noise ever.
  • Emily’s inappropriate guesses in Pictionary and her slightly disturbing competitive streak.
  • Finding out what an Eiffel Tower is. No, not the structure in Paris. The rude version.
  • Hi-fiving more times than I can remember. I’m a big fan of high-fiving, I know some people hate it but I LOVE it, it’s so much fun. And over here, the kids love it too. In.My.Element.
  • Knowing that the sun will shine every day and it won’t rain. Ok, so it’s cold in the morning but the sun is already out and by mid-morning it gets hot. Consistent weather; still a novelty. Not sure what India will be like as it’s monsoon season when I’m there so I’m enjoying it while it lasts.
  • Nights out in Livingstone; many funny or interesting things happened the two times I went out. So good to let our hair down and have some fun and check out the local nightlife. Beer pong, dancing, prostitutes, sunglasses, shots, it was all there.
  • African dancing at culture day – I had so much fun doing this, I could have done it all afternoon. Dancing their traditional dances in the sun to the African drums was just magical. I loved it.
  • Bungee jumping off the Victoria Falls Bridge. It was my second jump (the first was Bloukrans Bridge in South AFrican in 2011) and although not as terrifying or high as that one, it still got the adrenalin pumping and was such a rush. Beautiful scenery, the sun was shining and we had beers afterwards. What a way to spend a Friday.
  • There’s a line on the Vic Falls bridge where Zambia ends and Zimbabwe begins (we already had to go through border control before that though) so technically I can say I’ve been to Zimbabwe too. Although over here it’s just called Zim. Getting with the local lingo.
  • Playing games with the kids at Kids Club. These were so much fun, the kids get really excited and I got to be a kid again for a bit. Kids are so carefree and we got to enjoy that too. Real adult life can sometimes get dull, boring, serious and sensible. Lets not forget to have fun, blast away the cobwebs and laugh LOTS. We can learn a lot from children, just as they can learn from us.
  • Seeing wildlife every day. And I mean every day. Whether it’s elephants, baboons, hippos, giraffes, impala, monkeys or birds, there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by that I’ve not seen something. Not sure I’d ever get bored of it, although you do get used to seeing elephants just wander on by. Or baboons and monkeys running around. Never thought I’d be saying that.
  • Seeing the most beautiful sunrises, sunsets and stars in the night sky. African sunsets are well known, and there’s a reason for that. They’re just breathtaking. Everyone should see one, at least just once. You just can’t beat it. And the stars, out here, in the middle of the bush with no light pollution, are just amazing. We can see the Milky Way; it’s so clear. The stars shine so bright, and there’s shooting stars too. A couple of nights we just laid outside on the grass and watched the stars. Nothing else to do or see, no interruptions, just enjoying the stars. Sometimes the best things in life are free.
  • Sharing the running love; I ended up running with a couple of different people, getting them running. I hope this carries on throughout my travels.
  • Meeting and making new friends. I’ve met a lot of people out here, they’re a great bunch from all over the world; I’ve laughed lots and learnt loads. I hope we all keep in touch. And next year, when I get back home, we WILL have that UK reunion.

Part of my trip away is trying to figure out what I want to do work-wise. I don’t say career because I’ve never been particularly career minded, rather, I’ve just wanted to get jobs that I enjoy, that challenge me, and that I can do well in. I’m not particularly bothered about following a set path, or getting to the top (whatever the ‘top’ is). As long as I’m enjoying what I’m doing and it’s enabling me to live the life I want, rather than a life I have to, then I’m happy. I can say, after this trip, that there’s two jobs I can rule out. Teacher and firefighter. I’ve really enjoyed the teaching over here, it’s been a great challenge, rewarding and I’ve relished any minute of it. But, I couldn’t do it full time. It’s exhausting, frustrating and just not for me. But, it has reminded me how much I love training. I used to do a lot when I worked for the Police and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed it. So, that’s a possibility.

And firefighter? It’s something I fleetingly thought about last year. But, after taking part in fire break where we were practically stood in the middle of a roaring fire trying to beat it out, while the thick smoke made it hard to breathe or see, I’ve ruled it out. Obviously it’s not the same at all, but now every time I smell smoke since that first week’s fire break I feel panicky. I really do think it’s scarred me a little bit, it was so horrific, and so that’s definitely one job I couldn’t do now.

Being here has opened my eyes up yet again to new cultures, communities and ways of life that are so different to mine. It’s made me appreciate the things and people I have, and reaffirmed my values and motivations in life. I’m not particularly interesting in things, I’m all about the experiences. I want to help people and make a difference. I know I can’t change the world but I hope I can make a little difference. I hope I have made a little difference while I’m here. I guess I’ll never know for sure but I gave it my best shot.

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