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Goan to Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

We left you last from a balmy beachside bar in Anjuna, which is pretty much where we stayed for the next month so there's not a lot to report from Goa, other than our mission to chill out and tan up was a successful one. Tan, of course, is a relative measure, but we're very happy with our new hue - best described as a darker shade of pale. Christmas was a pretty relaxed affair. In fact, Will was so relaxed he slept until 7pm; though this may have been due to the fact that we were on a hilltop listening to hard-core Goan trance pumping out at ear-threatening decibel levels all night, and most of the morning, before. Realising we weren't going to be able to make the most of Christmas day itself we decided to take a dawn stroll along the beach and with our souls singing with natural beauty and ears ringing with suspected tinitus we eventually crashed out at about 10am. For New Year we tried to do the same again (the dawn stroll, not the 7pm breakfast) and so, much more drinking and some truly awful dancing later we set out along the beach ready to become inspired. The view was somewhat less idyllic with the shore littered with beercans and the bodies of our fellow revellers, but not a bad start to the new year all the same.

A few days later we deserted Goa and headed for Amratapuri, an ashram run by one of India's only female gurus, Amma. Amma means mother in Hindi, she gets her name from her unusual style of blessing her devotees, namely by giving them a hug. It seems to work too, with over 2,000 residents at the ashram as well as thousands of visitors from all over the world each year. It's pretty easy to tell the 2 apart, one group looking slightly bemused and the other looking slightly unhinged. Being surrounded by so many serenely smiling, wide eyed Amma-lites, all dressed in white, was more than a little disconcerting, and we have to admit that we had some serious doubts about the whole thing. After watching that evening's bhajans (religious chanting & singing, including numbers such as 'Blessed is the Mother' and 'Oh Amma, What a Lovely Hug That Was' - available to buy on CD at the Ashram gift shop) led by the great lady herself, we were amused to see many of the devotees pushing and shoving each other in order to touch their hallowed leader as she walked past, including one lady profering her baby Michael Jackson style over the barrier. To be honest we were becoming more and more disturbed by the increasingly cultish levels of adoration on display, as well as confused by the unnecessary officiousness of some of the devotees, who seemed to be more concerned with herding the flock than helping it.

The next day we headed down for the darshan (blessing), still unsure of whether we would feel some sort of spiritual epiphiny, or if it would feel a bit epi-phoney. After receiving our ticket ('Please pay the bearer the sum of one hug') and joining the line we were dragged by the Queue Manager into the seating area to watch Amma with her devotees. Watching her at work we saw many of her followers becoming quite emotional, and they clearly got a great deal from their audience with her, and soon we were quite eager to get darshan ourselves to see what all this was really about...but how to go about it? The Queue Manager had taken our ticket, and we didn't want to push past the others (which would surely be bad karma). We asked the Stage Manager, he said to go back to the Queue Manager. The Queue Manager sent us to the Security Manager, who sent us back to the Queue Manager, who asked us for our ticket - the same ticket he had taken away an hour before. After a fun discussion where he insisted that he wouldn't have taken the ticket (because then how could we get Darshan?) and a little more queuing we were back in the seating area, with no darshan, no ticket, and no idea as to what to do next. The Stage Manager came to our rescue though and helped us back into the queue (out of sight of the over-zealous Queue Manager) and soon we were approaching Amma with open hearts and minds, ready for our blessing.

Being new at this blessing business, we were slightly unsure when we got there what we should do. Blessing ettiquette, or blessiquette as it is commonly known, was not something we had been briefed on, but the hug-helpers were clearly used to this and made sure we did everything correctly, including holding our heads close to Amma's substantial chest as she hugged us and mumbled a blessing into our ears. Despite our earlier doubts we both came away from the experience with a new energy and purpose, though this may have been partly due to our victory over the dastardly Queue manager and his evil attempts to trap us in line for the rest of time!

Our next major stop was Kanyakumari, the Lands-End of India. The town itself is fairly pretty, with Meditteranean-style buildings facing the sea and is also one of the holiest places in India, but then so are Varanasi, Rishikesh, Kolkata, in fact pretty much everywhere has a claim to be the holiest place in India. They have a plethora of holy places (especially the roads, as Bec discovered a few weeks before by falling straight in one!), maybe they should have a holy-off and decide the thing once and for all...but back to Kanyakumari. One of it's main attractions is India's statue of liberty, but this might be better described as the statue of poetry as it is dedicated to Thiruvallularalaralalalaaraalala, the most revered poet in recent times and a nationl symbol of Indian-ness. It stands 133ft tall, representing the 133 verses of his seminal work entitled 'Oooh, isn't India Holy'....or some such. The other thing that stood out about the town was the food, which is the worst we've had in India, it's all bad, it's wholey shit, so despite trying several different eateries we left for Pondicherry with empty stomachs, but luckily for us that's not a bad way to arrive in Pondicherry, which has some of the best food in India. It's no coincidence that the territory used to be run by the French rather than the Brits, you really can taste the difference, which is what we did for the next 2 days before moving on to our last stop and our last day on the subcontinent, Chennai.

The Lonely Planet was singularly scathing about Chennai, so it was no surprise that it was in fact one of the friendliest and most entertaining places we'd visited. Walking randomly around we stumbled into an amazing club, which included India's biggest Miami Vice & Lional Richie fan (Miami Vice Jacket, Lionel's bubble-perm). We, of course had to go back and pack, ready for our flight to Kuala Lumpur the next day, so with a heavy heart we left for our hotel, but as an added bonus we were both given flags by local Congress party members who had been holding a rally that day. It was a stange end to a strange trip in a strange country, one that we were looking forward to leaving, but also somewhat unexpectedly look forward to returning to one day.

Conclusions on a Country - Describe India in 10 words or less

India's a little bit scary, a lot of the time.
A place of hard beds, hot heads & early weds.
Delhi belly - often smelly - maybe best to bring your wellies.
Keep your eyes and ears open, but close your nose.
Facial hair - everywhere; people stare if you're not from there.

Please feel free to add your own!!

permalink written by  BecnWill on January 20, 2008 from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
from the travel blog: The World By Knight
tagged Amma, Kanyakumari, Pondicherry, Falling and MiamiVice

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Fun in Auroville

Pondicherry, India

After leaving Sadhana Forest we took a few days to settle into our new digs at the Aspiration community guest house.

The huts are a pretty cool design. Two 'bedrooms' connected by a hall, off of which is the bathroom. The huts are squat though inside there is plenty of room to stand and the hall is half sunken in the ground, very well suited to cyclones :P.

Its a wonderful arrangement for friends travelling together. Even the local dogs love the huts.

Tuesday we went for the introductory tour and short meditation inside the Matramindir, and all I can say is wow. Setting aside for the moment the whole premise behind the Matramindir, spiritual attunement and furthering human evolution through the development of our consciousness, I have to drool over the sheer architectural genius of this thing. I'm not so in love with the outside of the building, but the inside makes me want to spurn all the rules and screw the peace of the other meditators by taking in my obnoxiously large camera and snapping photos of every graceful spiral and pristine white marble curve in this place.

Since I can't, I'll try to make do with words.

To enter the Matramindir you first walk past the Banyan Tree and through the Gardens of Unity to approach the Mat by passing in between two of the 'petals' (which are also separate meditation chambers each with a theme and fitting colour) to descend a stone walkway to the base of the Mat. Directly under the Mat, which is suspended on the sides by four concrete 'feet', you see the lotus pond; a series of white marble scoops or medallions that descend inward becoming smaller and smaller until they end at a crystal globe directly under the Mat. The water flowing over the marbel scoops provides a musical backdrop to your approach. To actually enter the Mat you have to ascend a staircase leading into the spheres bottom. Once entered there is a circular hall running around in the inside of the base where you sit on white marble benches on white marble floors to put on your white socks. Around the inside of the hall, is a glass floor so you can peer directly into the lotus pond beneath. Once you have your booties on you pass through a door on the interior of the hall, immediately to your left is a small sculpture and to your right is a circular stair leading up, made of guess what....white marble. Ascending the stairs, the room opens up dramatically. The walls are covered with triangular panels which emit a faint golden red glow. The walls are quartered by four golden tiled bands running the vertical length of the room. In the centre of the room are two stairways spiralling down around eachother (the stair you just walked up being one), mirrored by two floating ramps, spiralling along the outer perimeter of the chamber up into the meditation chamber which is in the highest point of the Matrimindir. The ramps are carpeted with plush white carpet and are fairly steep, making the climb to the upper chamber a slight physical exertion. At the top of the ramps is a foyer of sorts leading into the meditation chamber. Thankfully, there are pictures of the inner chamber :P Go google matramindir and look for the big crystal globe.

We've been to the Mat a few times now, and one of the petal rooms, and not being in the practice of meditating regularly its been an interesting experience for sure.

Aside from going to the Mat, we've been mainly tooling about Auroville and visiting nearby Pondicherry.

We certainly have to get our fill of the place, because we're leaving Tuesday!!!

Tuesday we will be heading to Chennai to board a short flight to Pune India in the company of Jess and Cristoph.

From Pune it's anyones guess :D

permalink written by  Slade's Elucidation on December 6, 2008 from Pondicherry, India
from the travel blog: Slade's Elucidation
tagged India, Pondicherry and Auroville

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Ausflug nach Frankreich - Pondicherry und Auroville

Pondicherry, India

Das vergangene Wochenende ging es weiter in den Süden, nach Pondicherry in eine ehemals französische Enklave, was man der Stadt noch deutlich anmerkt.

Früh um 5 ging es in Chennai los und die Busfahrt dauerte ca. 4h. Nach ca. 1h Busfahrt setzte ein leichter englischer Landregen ein, der leider das ganze Wochenende andauern sollte. In Pondicherry angekommen war dann natürlich die Frage: Was fange ich bei dem Wetter an? Eigentlich war der Plan möglichst viel am Strand zu liegen und sogar das erste mal richtig Baden zu gehen. Aber das Wetter machte mir da einen totalen Strich durch die Rechnung.

Also gings erst einmal in eine Boulangerie, die mir sowohl andere Studenten, als auch mein Reiseführer empfohlen hatten. Das Frühstück und der Kaffee konnte sich auch wirklich sehen lassen und so verbrachte ich dort knappe 2h. Eine Gruppe französische Traveller am Nebentisch hatten das gleiche Problem wie ich und man unterhielt sich ein wenig. Schlussendlich entschieden sie sich ins Kino zu gehen. Ich wollte aber weiter nach Auroville, da dort auch eine Herberge liegt, die mir ebenfalls empfohlen wurde. Also ein wenig durchnässt auf zum Bus und ins 10km weitergelgene Auroville.

Auf dem Weg zur Herberge km ich noch an einem indischen Fest vorbei. Was der Grund dafür war konnte ich aber leider nicht herausfinden.
Die Herberge war Abenteuer pur. Direkt am Strand gelegen. Blick aufs Meer. Meeresrauschen. Bambushütten. Kein elektrisches Licht. Aber schaut euch einfach die Bilder an. Ich war auch verdammt froh ein Moskitonetz mit Boden zu haben, weil es gab dort verdammt viel Viehzeug, was feuchte Palmendächer sehr mochte. Es gab wohl auch irgendwelches Nagergetier, die sich über meinen Brotrest hermachten, den ich in einer Ecke des Netzes liegen hatte.

Nachdem ich mich eingerichtet hatte, war es kurz nach Mittag und ich beschloss mir noch Auroville anzuschauen. Auroville ist eine geplante Stadt, in der irgendwann mal 50000 Einwohner leben sollen. Dabei stellt es aber das größte esoterische Zentrum Indiens dar. Aktuell leben ca. 1700 Leute dort in der Stadt in Kommunen zusammen, die alle der Gemeinschaft von Sri Aurobindo angehören. Der größte Teil Ausländer.
Das Zentrum der Stadt bildet eine gigantische Kugel, in derem Inneren Meditatiosräume zu finden sind. Man kann sich das sog. Matri Mandir von einer Besucherplattform aus anschauen. Dafür muss man zuvor sich aber einen 10-minütigen "Propagandafilm" anschauen. Ziel der Gemeinschaft ist ein friedliches Zusammenleben unterschiedlichster Kulturen unter der Ansicht alle Religionen seinen gleich. Also so ein wenig moderner Hinduismus.

Am nächsten Tag ging es dann zurück nach Pondi, um sich dort noch ein paar Sachen anzuschauen. Wenn man ein wenig durch die Stadt läuft fällt einem immer wieder der krasse Unterschied zwischen dem sauberen, ruhigen französischen Viertel und dem hektischen, dreckigen indischen Teil der Stadt auf. Außerdem ist mir endlich hier klar geworden, warum jede Stadt in Indien einen M.G.R. besitz. Das bedeutet nix anderes als Mahatma Gandhi Road und logischerweise hat die jede Stadt.

Außerdem hat Pondi einen sehr großen Markt mit vielen kleinen Gassen, wo man so gut wie alles bekommt. Die hygienischen Bedingungen sind aber wie fast überall in Indien bedenklich.

permalink written by  Martin on December 5, 2010 from Pondicherry, India
from the travel blog: India 2010/2011
tagged Pondicherry

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