Tag Archives: India

Injury

A fundamental question has been asked of me on this trip. What do you do when you can’t do. What happens when you are physically incapable of acting in the way you would like. How to practice when your body is in pain stretching and even to sit comfortably is difficult?

It is an exercise in vulnerability as I recognise I’m not as young as I was and that my physical body is not as solid as I maybe believed.

 

 

I was hiking from the town of Yuksom in West Sikkim, the starting point of many high altitude treks to the Goecha La pass at 5000 metres. I wasn’t attempting anything so difficult though, I just decided a one day hike between monasteries to the village of Tashiding would be a suitable trip for me.  It’s 19Km of supposedly straightforward trails via 4 different monasteries. I did my due diligence and chatted to a local guide about it rather than just accepting the instructions in the Lonely Planet and he confirmed it is a simple route. Things aren’t always predictable, however.

The steep but clear path to Dubdi gompa just 40 minutes outside of Yuksom was simple enough and I reached there after a breathless climb, exhilarated. The valley views and peaceful gompa were reward for my efforts but I knew this was just the first stage of my journey.

 

The next path was not so obvious, leading out the back of the monastery and downhill to the road. At first I took a path into the forest due to a fallen sign but soon turned around and found the right way. I didn’t expect walking along the road though, so was a bit unsure if it was the right path. It was stunning scenery so I didn’t mind too much and I couldn’t see another way to get around the valley.  It wasn’t until a local doing the same route pointed me in the right direction that I was really sure.

We passed through Tsong village and I was looking for a path to the small Hongri gompa. A turn off to take me above the road through cardamom fields and up to the outcrop of the monastery. Instead I reached the end of the road with a marker for the village of Dubdi 0KM the only indicator that this was some sort of destination. I retraced my steps a hundred metres or so up the road to a nearby house up a set of steep steps hewn from the earth. There an old man in a felt hat greeted me with enthusiasm. He pointed out where I needed to go, what I could see on the distant ridges and explained that he spoke Hindi, Nepali and another local language but not English. He led me up an ever steeper path with the gait of an ambling goat, leaving me puffing and panting in his wake and grateful for the pauses where he shouted “Pelling, Namchi, Tashiding!” at me, in reference to the local towns on the horizon. I made my way up the last section alone, wondering why these monasteries are always at the end of steep walks…

 

Hongri Gompa is small, remote, unpainted and it seems one of its walls collapsed some time ago. Despite this, it is a delightful spot. Stunning views, a small homestay with one of the monks and the young locals practising their mantras in the little school room.  The place charmed me even in the short time I had there but I felt the need to press on. This is where my difficulties started. The path from here was almost immediately unclear, branching in several different ways. I don’t know if I took the correct route but I found the trail through forest getting smaller, slippery and not maintained. I didn’t pass a single person on this section to ask if I was on the right path and visions started creeping into my head. What would I do if I happened to twist my ankle, would I turn around to make it back to Hongri or continue onwards?

Trying to put these negative thoughts from my mind I forged ahead. Until, at some point, my right foot slipped underneath me. I had a vision of my hat staying where it was in mid-air for a second and then the next thing I knew I was falling to my right. Down until… boom! I landed on my back, on the right side I think, padded somewhat by my small backpack. Thankful that I had two jumpers in there which broke the initial fall a little but possibly also meant that I bounced and then found myself tumbling head-over-heels down the side of the mountain. I grabbed hold of whatever I could, branches, bushes, the undergrowth, scratching and bruising up my right arm in the process and eventually came to a stop, tangled in weeds.

My right hiking shoe was almost off, my back was aching, I was winded and stunned wondering if I could walk and if there might be someone who could rescue me. I lay there for several minutes, attempting to shout “help”, “hello”, “namaste” anything to attract attention, but there was no-one nearby whose attention I could attract. It wasn’t long before I realised that I didn’t have much choice but to scramble back up the hill I had fallen down and attempt to carry on walking. I did up my shoe, cautious not to lose my grip and fall further but also not looking down to see how much further I could potentially fall. It was difficult to pull myself up to the spot where I fell but I managed.  My hat was neatly sat on the path as if waiting for me to retrieve it. I couldn’t say the same for my glasses though, it was only at this point that I realised they had been dislodged and lost somewhere down the mountain. Luckily I had a pair of prescription sunglasses with me.

I faced the prospect of an unknown distance to get to Tashiding, or at least the next place of civilisation, or quite a tricky walk back to Hongri. I decided to continue ahead, thinking I must be near the next village and maybe I could get a lift if I was closer to the road. Each step was painful and ironically going down became more difficult on my lower back than going upwards. All summer I had been complaining about walking uphill and enjoying downward steps but here I was cursing every descent as it triggered another twinge.

The first place I came to was a little farm on the edge of a village but not near a road. The family there didn’t speak much English but made me tea, gave me some muscle rub oil and tried to help me find somewhere to stay in the village. That wasn’t possible so I didn’t have much choice but to move on again.

I stopped at various villages but no-one was able to give me a lift and tiredness and stubbornness kicked in against the pain. I decided I would keep on going until I reached the famous Sanu Homestay in Tashiding where I figured they would be able to look after me.

The homestay couldn’t have been much further into Tashiding and after about 3 or four hours walking after the fall I arrived to find the owner was away. The family did their best to help me but only the young daughter spoke English so it was a little difficult. I lay in bed that night in some pain, listening to the grandmother recite mantras in the room next door as I drifted off to sleep hoping that I hadn’t done any serious damage.

 

I called my friend Anna who was staying in Yuksom for advice, and really because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to move when I woke up in the morning. She very kindly offered to jump in a taxi to come and help me to the doctor’s in the morning and help me make some decisions on what to do since I was not thinking entirely clearly.

We went to the “Primary Health Centre” in Tashiding but all the nurse there could offer was ibuprofen and a suggestion to visit the doctor in Yuksom so we managed to find a vehicle (not as easy as you would think because most shared jeeps were cancelled due to “election counting day”)

When we arrived at the hospital in Yuksom the doctor took one look at me and after hearing we had come from Tashiding and, knowing the state of the road, she made a call that I had unlikely broken anything or I would be in a lot more pain. She gave me a pain killing shot, some tablets and recommended I take it easy and keep an eye on it for the next week or so.

Yuksom was cold at night and in the morning and I would wake so stiff that sometimes it was difficult to get out of bed and almost always it was agony to tie my shoelaces. I was doing some gentle yoga to wake my back and occasionally went for walks but generally I was hanging out in little Yuksom, enjoying the hospitality of Mama’s Homestay and the other restaurants and being probably one of the longest foreign residents in a place where normally people stop only long enough to arrange a trek.

After a week I wasn’t feeling much better, my symptoms had eased and then got worse again but I felt it was really time to leave. I set off in search of hot springs but stopped first at the town of Namchi where there was a bigger hospital and I could get checked out properly.

I had an x-ray done in the modern facility and then waited outside the orthopedic doctor’s office with a number, much like being at the butcher, or the Indian Visa office. About 8 of us were ushered into the room together and our consultations took place behind a small curtain with everyone else absent-mindedly looking on.

He took one look and told me, “you see, you have a small compression in your L2, L3, er L5. One, two, three, yes L2. You need to rest for 6 weeks. No jumping, no carrying heavy things”  I asked about yoga “No sport” and massage “you could end up making it worse” and I left feeling a bit bereft of options.

 

Thailand

It was after speaking to Anna that I had the idea to go to Thailand. I’d been planning on making a visit at some stage on this trip so why not now when I am invalided.

 

I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be here on Ko Phangan. It is a  beautiful island with so many opportunities. Even so, I’m left thinking about the yoga that I have done here before, the friends that I have spent time with before and it can never really compare. I’m taking this time as one of reflection and hopefully from that creation will emerge, one day at a time. I have considered detoxes, tantra courses, and retreats to fill up my time but actually I see that it’s more important to embrace this boredom, embrace this freedom and see what emerges naturally.

I took a Reiki attunement a few days ago as part of the first course into using this energy healing technique. It has left me feeling quite sensitive with a lot of clearing of old energy and a need to be in my own space. I’m allowing this to channel through me and hopefully things will be clearer in a couple of weeks.

It’s really rainy here right now which further increases the sense of going inwards. So as I meditate and do breathing exercises there is a sense of calm, a recognition of just “being” but also that “doing” will grow out of this without needing to worry about it.

 

 

 

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Andaman Islands

Guide to the Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are an archipelago of over three hundred small crops of land, governed by India, in the Andaman sea although they are closer to Burma and Thailand.

There are some uninhabited islands and others which are off-limits to tourists due to the protection of the indigenous population. The Nicobarese are a tribal people and the government is now making every effort  to stop modern influences disrupting their traditional way of life as has happened with other groups on some of the main islands. There was controversy a couple of years ago as video footage emerged of “human safaris” being carried out where tourists could go and view local dances and rituals, observing from a jeep as if these people were wildlife. These were the islands on old maps marked “here be monsters” due to the wild nature of their inhabitants.

The contrast between pristine white sand beaches and dense rain-forest is breathtaking at times, and the Andamans have truly some of the most amazing and beautiful beaches in the world. Clear turquoise water framed by bush as far as the eye can see, on Havelock Beach 7 I could go down at 8AM and have the entire Radha Nagar stretch entirely to my self.

Radha Nagar beach, Havelock Island, Andamans

Radha Nagar beach, Havelock Island, Andamans

There is cultural diversity you can explore in the Andamans but given the history of the place and how the British and other rulers treated the indigenous population it is perhaps best to stick to the amazing beaches and nature. The Scuba diving and snorkelling in the Andamans is  some of the best in the world with great visibility and a huge array of fish, rays and other sea creatures. Dive sites include shipwrecks gorges and the like to explore.

Flights to the Andamans are from Calcutta or Chennai and they are sometimes expensive, check for deals! There is also a boat that goes from Chennai or Calcutta, it takes 3 or 4 days and some will say is the only “real” way to get to the islands, man.

 

The Capital: Port Blair

Port Blair is a hub, where flights land and boats dock and although it’s a pleasant enough town in its own right generally it isn’t a place you would want to stay for more than a night or two. It’s small enough that you can stay around the main Bazaar in some cheapish hotels and explore the whole town either on foot or by auto rickshaw. We stayed at Azad lodge where the owner was helpful and you can choose between super cheap and grotty or pay a little bit more for a nice room.

Things to do in the Andaman capital:

– Visit the old Cellular Jail to learn about the history of the islands

– Treat yourself to a massive Royal Falooda at one of the Cool Bars in the Main Bazaar

 

Outside of Port Blair there are several other islands which are on the backpacker trail…

 

1. Havelock Island

Popular for being one of the closest Islands to Port Blair, excellent for diving and with the closest the Andaman Islands have to a party scene. Hang out amongst the scattered guesthouses with large groups of Israelis on Beach 5 or escape to Radha Nagar, Beach 7 with fewer places to stay and a much more relaxed vibe (and a far better beach).

  1. Little Andaman.

More off the beaten track as it takes about 10 hours by ferry from Port Blair and isn’t as developed or hospitable in many ways than Havelock. You kind of need a motorbike to get around and the beaches are notorious for sandflies (some bites can get really infected and cause swelling so be careful). It’s worth it though for the surfing, amazing jungle, waterfalls and end of the world feeling – bring a hammock.

                 3. Neil Island

The island next to Havelock is less developed and so more relaxed. It’s more accessible than Little Andaman so if you want the easy middle ground between the two then this is a good option.

TOP 10 BEST Experiences / Adventures in the Country 

1. Scuba Diving

2. Becoming a beach bum at Radha Nagar Lagoon

3. Surfing Little Andaman

4. Riding a motorbike through the jungle to the crocodile infested waterfall on Little Andaman

5. Exploring villages down little roads

6. The freshest seafood grilled to perfection with magic sauce at Swapan’s on Havelock, the best little local place you will find…

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7. Snorkeling

8. Did I mention the beach?

9. Going up to the north to visit jungle or the beautiful Smith & Ross islands

10. Bonfires, beer and brilliant simplicity


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10 mind expanding places to visit.

I’ve traveled quite a bit in my time and certain places have lived long in my memory. I’ve listed 10 here that I think are particularly mind expanding for a variety of reasons…

Travel is a mind-broadening, mouth-watering eye-opening and loin-moistening experience which if you’re not careful will grab you as a bug and not let go until you are looking at finding ways to make it into a lifestyle. For me it is best to treat travel  as a learning experience whether that be from taking courses and classes or just through interactions with locals and travelers from countries you may never have thought of visiting. Everyone is a teacher and every day can bring new challenges and experiences and travel allows you to open up to these if you let it. Gazing out at the sunset over a beautiful ocean or up at the multitude of stars on a clear night in the mountains the everyday drifts from your consciousness a little and you begin to realise the fundamental value of a life. Doing a long trip before starting a life of work can give you a better perspective I think and stop you getting stuck in a treadmill of unhappiness because you have the knowledge of something satisfying that isn’t reliant upon or judged by your performance in an office.
Embrace the difference, be amused by the difficulty, every long bus journey is a story and every arrival a new beginning. There will be hard times on a long trip, where you miss home and the simplicity of a life that you know but the benefit gained and the satisfaction you feel when you navigate those problems is worth the hardship.
I have traveled extensively in South East Asia, Europe, Australia and India.

Real de Catorce

In the North of Mexico this former silver mining outpost is only accessible through a 2.5km winding mine-shaft tunnel which necessitates moving to a smaller bus on arrival. Since the seam ran dry Real has become a ghost town with abandoned buildings in the valleys surrounding the town.

Taking a horse around the beautiful hillsides is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon, discovering ruins of mansions and mine buildings. You will also find sacred Huichol sites where ceremonies sometimes take place. These hills are alive with Peyote, the cactus that shamans use to give a healing dose of mescaline and the Huichol tribe come here at least once a year to hold large ceremonies.

 

Dharamsala – Triund

From the home of the Dalai Lama in Mcleod Ganj it is around a 4-5 hour trek up to the mountain ridge of Triund, passing screaming monkeys peering out of steaming garbage bins and accumulating stray dogs along the way as you cross beautiful valleys and tree-lined hills.

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If the clouds creep in the majestic view back across the Himalayan foothill valleys will disappear into a white nothingness but once you reach the chai stalls at Triund itself you will be above the clouds to see a majestic mountain appear in front of you from nothing. At sunrise and sunset the views are particularly stunning with any lingering cloud cover dissipating and the mountains bathed in yellow-orange sunlight.

Anapurna Base Camp

While the 26 day trek around the Annapurna circuit has started to become less popular due to the building of roads near part of the previously isolated route, the “ABC” trek is still out there and as inaccessible as things come.

It takes around 7 days including a loop at the bottom to reach the base camp at over 4000 metres with at least two of these days being almost entirely uphill. You will pass through small villages, delightful valleys and gorges, and finally across a snow-covered plateau. There are guesthouses en-route in the various villages, although for the last 3 days you will be staying in lodges that are solely there for the benefit of trekkers since this area is not inhabitable year-round. If you go in March or April, officially the “second season” the hills will be alive with huge rhododendron bushes in red, blue and yellow and the final valley will be a spectacular grass-lined path rather than a snow-covered tundra.

Pinnacles Borneo

Deep in the jungles of Borneo, past nomadic tribes with blow-pipes and a history of cannibalism you can journey out by river-boat and on foot to the base of the Pinnacles, a set of jagged rocks which poke up out of the side of the mountain.

The climb to the top is up a slippery slope of sharp rocks and the last third involves climbing up rope ladders, shimmying across planks and hauling up knotted cable.

Coming down is even more fun, especially if it has been raining, as the downward motion enhances the slipperiness and falling onto those jagged rocks a real possibility. It may not be such a bad move to come down on your bum.

Spiti Valley

To reach this place you have to endure hours of treacherous roads, driving in local Indian buses with drivers who think that honking the horn enables them to safely hurtle around blind corners with drops of thousands of metres awaiting a wrong turn. The buses cheerfully have “Oh God Save Me” handpainted on the front and as you swerve around the 30th bend of the day with crumbling rocks skittling down into the canyon below you realise that maybe grace does have something to do with your survival on this trip.

The views from the bus, if you can stomach to look out of the window, are spectacular though and on arrival in one of the villages along the way, after kissing the ground and praising Shiva, Buddha, Christ and Allah for your survival, you soon realise why some hardy souls choose to live up here.

The “ultra blue” skies are one thing, a shade that reflects the high altitude of the region which is usually around 4000m, but add to that an arid desert landscape with little vegetation and paths hugging the valley which swoops to the trickling rivers below and then the snow peaked Himalaya which surround you at every turn and this is an awesome landscape to trek in.

Staying up here is basic, homestays with the villagers who are welcoming but understandably only able to provide the simplest of food. They burn cow shit to keep warm in the winter and have piles of dung stacked in storage rooms all shaped into neat patties.

Buddhism is rife up here with monasteries everywhere, reflecting the closeness to the border with Tibet, and you can see monks practicing and ancient caves where yogis of the past meditated and gained enlightenment.

We walked from Dhankar to Kaza over five days. The stars at night were the clearest I have seen and sitting on the rooftop of a white-painted house in the middle of this nowhere was an other-worldly experience indeed.

Arunachala – Tiruvanimallai

Tamil Nadu in the South of India is a strongly religious state.  Old and impressive Hindu temples dominate everywhere you go with awesome facades, intense ceremonies and usually a lot of fire.

Tiru is in the shadow of the mountain Arunachala which is said to be an emanation of Lord Shiva, one of the main trinity in the Hindu pantheon. It is a beautiful mountain and walking up amongst its verdant hills and away from the honking and mayhem of the centre of the city is a most peaceful experience.

It was here that Sri Ramana Maharshi, a famous Indian saint, sat in a cave for many years and meditated in silence. At the temple in town, where he also lived for some time, his experiences are recorded;  and on the outskirts a small enclave has grown around his ashram, set up by his followers.

In this part of town things are a bit more relaxed and you can spend your days visiting the western gurus who visit to speak of their take on advaita vedanta or the non-dualistic teachings of existence that Ramana originally expressed.

Every month at full moon, thousands of pilgrims walk the 12km around the base of the mountain barefoot, taking time out along the way to give offerings to the hundreds of Shiva Lingam shrines that ring the base, and ending up at the temple for further blessings.

Andaman Islands

Part of India but closer to Burma and Thailand, this set of Islands (forming a large archipelago with the neighbouring but inaccessible Nicobar islands) are as close to the Robinson Crusoe, perfect beach getaway as you can imagine.

Their history is not so great with the British causing great hardship to the indigenous population meaning that many of the tribes have died or have lost their traditional way of life (and why large portions of the islands are now off-limits to tourists).

The main island houses a huge jail which was used for prisoners who were treated extremely harshly and given unfair punishments when they were unable to keep up with the unreasonable targets set in the hard labour work they were sentenced to undertake.

 

Getting away from the history though, you can find almost untouched beaches that are out of a dream. Radha Nagar beach on Havelock Island for example is known for its beautiful sunsets but there are only 2 small guesthouses serving the beach. There are a couple of more upmarket resorts but they are hidden away in the jungle such that when you walk down past the handful of chai shops offering simple thalis you enter out onto the beach and find it stretching as far as you can see in either direction with barely a soul bothering its pristine sand.

The sea is a clear turquoise and the white sand is fine to the touch, jungle rings the shoreline and other than a couple of wooden umbrellas on immediately entering there is nothing man-made in sight.

Walk along to the right and you will find a lagoon with still green water for when you tire of playing in the waves which are frequent but not too strong.

I used to come down at 8 in the morning and there would never be anyone there, I would swim with the dogs who would come to meet me and be amazed that I was so lucky.

4000 islands Laos

Deep in the south of Laos, not far from the border with Cambodia, is this set of islands in the mighty Mekong river. It is home to Irrawaddy dolphins which you can go and see, but for me, it was more about being the most peaceful and beautiful spot to hang out in a hammock.

 

Mount Bromo, Java

The volcanoes in Java are very much active with Gunung Merapi regularly erupting and causing significant damage to the surrounding region. Bromo is a little less dangerous, although a potential eruption here could be devastating.

You walk, or ride a horse, across large flat plateau with nothing except an old temple in between the small town and the crater.

After a climb up the side of the mountain you reach a hole in the earth with smoke gently rising from the innards which are not quite visible . The slope leading down to the pit is reminiscent of the gaping maw that Han Solo narrowly avoids in Return of the Jedi and the security barrier that existed here at one point has now eroded into barely nothing.

As visitors toss their offerings down into the mountain there is often a moment of disquiet as you fear that some over-exuberant fellow may overbalance and follow on down into the middle of the crevasse.

Black Rock City

The home of the Burning Man festival in Nevada. For a month or so the participants transform this site from the most inhospitable desert, with nothing growing on its large flat basin floor and super fine dust covering everything, to something resembling a city, as it might be on Mars.

Taking over the environment by building camps the participants create the vast majority of the city themselves with the organisers only being responsible for some of the main structures.

With massive dance parties all over the landscape, particularly at night when people in EL wire lights fill the entire bowl, art cars parade around pumping out beats and providing their own light show and art exhibits glint and sparkle or flash and titilate depending on their wont.

Burning Man photos by Severin Taranko

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Writing Goals: 5 for Winter

Here I will set my writing goals for the next few months as a way of creating an intention, only in this way will I follow through and prevent my inherent laziness!  As we approach winter and all that entails it seems to me a good time to write, to express fully what is burning inside and to make plans for the future while remaining firmly in the present. Setting these writing goals will help me to tap into that creativity.

Writing Goals -  bring back this creativity

Writing Goals – bring back this creativity

I’ve been a lax blogger in the last few months and while I can blame work and domestic issues the fact is I haven’t prioritised writing in any meaningful way, I haven’t taken the hints to write every day, to make time and focus, turn off the internet and lose myself in the written word for a while.

This is going to change. I feel it has to for my general sanity, so here I set my writing goals:

 

First of all I am going to take part in NaNoWriMo – the National Novel Writing Month – otherwise known as November.

The challenge here is to write a novel, from scratch, in the 30 days of the month. The target is 50,000 words, which is a lot considering the pace of London life and the social opportunities that always crop up.

I don’t even have an idea for a plot yet, although I’m thinking it might involve India.

So the first writing goal is to plan for, and then write a novel. Easy.

 

Number two on the list is to blog more regularly. Writing a journal is a good start but putting stuff out there makes me much less likely to become self-indulgent or lazy.

I’ve got several posts I could catch up on, although a lot of them are rather out of date now so it becomes a bit less easy to remember details. Still, I will set the writing goal of 1 blog post a week – minimum.

 

The third writing goal is to use my time more effectively. Get up earlier, stop wasting time on trivialities and spend it on writing, planning and doing practice that energises me.

My daily yoga practice for example has become something of myth and legend. I did practice this morning, and it was great, but I want to do that every morning and face the day rejuvenated.

So the goal is to rise at least an hour earlier than I need to for work. Practice and write before leaving the house. This in itself is what will give me the opportunity to reach the other writing goals in this list since carving out the time to write is the thing that I find hardest.

 

Four is to grasp new opportunities, and follow them through.

It seems simple but I don’t do it often enough. I have a nature that is calm, relaxed and perhaps to the outside seems unflappable but equally unlikely to get over-enthusiastic about things. Positivity is the key and pushing forward with projects that are important to me while only giving the time I absolutely need to for those that aren’t is crucial.

So being open to new things and experiencing whatever comes my way but also to set the time aside to NOT be distracted by messages, tweets and phone calls to actually do what I need to in the first place.

 

Finally, I want to make sure that the things I have going on already come to some fruition.

So, I will write more for the wonderful bods at Le Cool London, I will try to chase the Thai Cookbook that I spent quite a lot of time on last year, and I will continue to write for Weekend Notes, Recipe Yum and the like.

Stir Fried Fresh Beans and Red Curry Paste... Writing goals - publish the cookbook

Writing goals – publish the cookbook

I might never have mentioned I wrote a random e-book about Prince Philip last year and have a couple of others that I started work on, so they need to come to completion.

These are primarily my writing goals for the next few months. Write a novel. Do a minimum of one blog post a week. Keep writing on my existing platforms. Find new platforms. Write some ebooks.

I have other goals too. Learn to drive, speak Spanish, speak more confidently in public and create a lifestyle that allows me to do the things I love more regularly.

 

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Ko Phagnan Part 3

So Allison and Alex started off by asking if we were “From Agama” the local yoga school on Ko Phagnan and we continued by comparing stories about India, spirituality and the reality we live in.

I loved it, I’m not sure Marion was quite as interested (having already had an earful of philosophy from me earlier)

They told us all about the school and some of the things they had learnt (without mentioning the Tantra element actually) and I took it as a total sign that I had to go to this place. We were the last ones at the restaurant and I left having arranged to meet Alex and Allison at a lecture on the Bhagavad Gita the following night.

Agama is a controversial school but I didn’t realise that until a little while later. I was confused a little at my first Yoga class when people asked me if I knew what I was “letting myself in for” but to be honest I didn’t find it intimidating and I think there are a lot of insubstatiated stories. Certainly from the first lecture I found the Swami immensely well read, very knowledgeable and a good speaker. I’m not sure I felt in the presence of a realised being but this large Romanian guy in orange robes with quite a brash manner perhaps just doesn’t fit my restricted idea of a guru.

Marion and I spent several days together, hanging out at various beaches on Ko Phagnan and exploring before we went to the Half Moon Party. I had spent a long day at Agama, walking to both the morning and afternoon classes as well as staying for the lecture with Nadine, the sparkly eyed German who Marion had met on the bus and had been another pointer to Agama, having completed the first level course previously.

I didn’t really fancy the party after this long day but Marion and I had been planning to go so I didn’t want to pull out last minute. I probably should have though because she knew some French guys there and we ended up hanging out with them. The guys were alright although it was pure Gallic Drama as one had injured his leg meaning his holiday may be cut short while his companion was in the grip of great despair due to not wanting to travel alone. I had a traditional bucket of Sang Som with Red Bull and Coke to try and enjoy the party but apart from the fire show which was, in equal parts enchanting and extremely dangerous it wasn’t really a great do.

It was this night and the resulting hangover which made me decide to quit drinking, for a while at least, and I went a good month before having anything again.

Meanwhile, the Yoga was really interesting, I arrived on the last day of week 2 of the 1st level 1 month intensive course. This proved to be a good day to start since we were taught what I would call Agama’s “Special Move” the ultimate energy-sublimation asana, Uddiyanda Bandha. This involves exhaling through the mouth to empty the lungs and then doing a “fake inhalation” pulling the chest up and navel towards the spine with knees bent and hands on the thighs to hold the exhale with a concave stomach. This causes energy to rise up the spine, moving it from the lower chakras.

The Class in general is characterised by its intense focus on these energy centres and movement, either bringing in cosmic energy from above or channelling through the Telluric Earth energy from below.

This is achieved by concentrating on particular chakras during the Asanas but also by holding the postures for much longer than I am used to.

I liked the slow, reflective and meditative style though and the classes were certainly challenging, leading to a deep final relaxation.

My first day was a big one because as well as Uddiyanda Bandha the evening lecture (led by Swami Vivekananda) was about the Yogic concept of Brahmacharya which is basically Sexual Continence.

Interpreted by most as meaning a celibate path is the only way to enlightenment, Tantra sees things differently. Outlining that the real reason behind Brahmacharya is preventing the loss of Ojas and not specificially refraining from sex.

Ojas is described in Click Here!” target=”_blank”>ayurveda and is a kind of “life force” which is lost in large amounts through ejaculation for men and so it is understandable that there is a correlation.

The ascetic path which takes the “fastest” route to enlightenment by cutting out all opportunities to failure by for example heading off to a cave, teaches celibacy as a way of cutting out the sexual urge at the root. Tantra however, teaches the mantra “sublime, sublime, sublime” that this energy can be harnessed and transferred to higher chakras to actually aid in spiritual development

For men this means giving up ejaculation, and in the short term the orgasm – we learnt that the two are not explicitly linked.

Orgasm causes certain muscle contractions which cause ejaculation but the two can be separated (although this takes a while)

This means that with practice and by offering the fruits to the divine it is possible for men to have multiple orgasms without ejaculation.

So maybe you can see why this school has a slightly “odd” reputation – I should clarify that some of the details here weren’t taught in this initial lecture – in fact Swami made a point of keeping away from the sexual side since the yoga classes are kept totally aside from the “tantric” side.

However, I did attend the separate “mens meeting” and after much deliberation I did sign up for the one week Tantra Level One workshop.

It turned out to be much more Sex-ed than I was expecting or really hoping for…!

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Le Cool Slumdog

Gr_event_lecool_logoSeptember 17 2010

Slumdog-millionaire-best-picture-2009-oscars

where BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road South Bank Waterloo London SE1 8XT
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when 8.30pm

how much £12.90

Friday_22043_0_9665_0

cinema

Slumdog Millionaire

I can’t actually attend this event because I’ll be boarding a plane for a six-month trip to India but this seemed like an apt thing to write about in the circumstances. Slumdog Millionaire was obviously a massive hit in its slightly fantastical take on life in the Mumbai slums. If you haven’t seen it then you really should, India is going to be one of the big players in the next century as the West sees its economy collapse and the BRIC nations start to provide services at a reduced cost against which we cannot compete. Anyway, forget the politics and enjoy the love story and the lecture session afterwards with screenwriter Simon Beaufoy taking us through the way he finds his voice. Should be interesting I’d wager; meanwhile I’ll be attempting not to get dysentery. / Ian Marshall

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