Looking back on India

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July 1st 2006
Published: July 5th 2006
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Swarg NiwasSwarg NiwasSwarg Niwas

Both this and the Shri Trayanbakshwar temple were built by the organisation of the guru Kailashanand.
Having put off this blog update for so long, I'm now finding it surprisingly hard to cast my mind back to my last week in India. I can hardly believe it was only six weeks ago! I think the vagueness of my memories may be partly due to the fact that I was fairly exhausted at the time - I just didn't have the energy to get up to any memorable adventures. I also noticed, around that time, that whenever I came across a new 'sight' I immediately started looking for good shots of it, rather than looking at it and fully appreciating it. So I put the camera away for a while, and don't have many photos to jog my memory or share with you. I'll try to make this entry fairly short, and then get onto putting up some more interesting entries about Rangsit and the great times that are being had here and all around Thailand. =)

I know I wrote quite a bit in my last entry about my experience of India's public transport, but the bus ride from Shimla to Haridwar, (near Rishikesh), has to rate a special mention. I had booked one of the last two seats the afternoon before but wanted to make sure that I arrived at the bus station early enough to claim my seat. Not wanting to waste any time getting lost, I stopped at one point to ask a traffic cop for directions. It became immediately apparent that he was very bored with his day's duties, because he gratefully abandoned what he was doing and offered to drive me to the station himself. His four fellow officers decided this could be more interesting than directing Shimla's sluggish traffic, so we all piled into their tiny cop car and took off at high speed. I tried to assure him that I wasn't actually in that much of a rush but he wouldn't have any of it. Instead, he put up the flashing light (but thankfully not the siren) and then radioed ahead to have someone waiting to meet me at the station. When we screeched to a halt a few minutes later, a smartly dressed officer offered me a crisp salute and then stopped traffic on the main road so I could cross safely. =P Needless to say, I made my bus in time.

Collapsing gratefully into my seat, I watched with increasing amazement as more, and more... and more people squeezed on board. The seats filled up in minutes, then the aisle (some standing, others sitting or lying on luggage), then newcomers started trying to sit on others' laps, or curl up on the floor at their feet. There was no control whatsoever on the number of people on board. When we pulled out of the station, half an hour late, there were still people running along side, pushing their luggage through the windows, then pulling the door open and somehow clawing their way onboard. By the time we reached the outskirts of the city, there were so many people standing tightly packed at the door, that everyone had to press tightly against each other, (and sometimes, or so it seemed, even take a deep breath in unison), just to get the door shut each time.

As I've mentioned before, all Indian bus drivers seem to use a sort of role-playing game to spice up their long drives and keep themselves entertained. The most popular roles are definitely those of 'Bollywood getaway driver' and 'World Champion of Chicken'. But the driver on this route, (possibly inspired by
View across the Lakshman jhula (pedestrian bridge)View across the Lakshman jhula (pedestrian bridge)View across the Lakshman jhula (pedestrian bridge)

On the other side are the 13-storey temples of Swarg Niwas and Shri Trayanbakshwar.
Shimla's lofty heights and chilly temperatures), had gone for something a little more original - he was a 'slalom skiier'. We spent literally the entire night swerving from one lane to the other, oncoming headlights raking through the cabin like angry lasers, furious horns blaring, exhausted heads lolling from side to side. Not that there was much chance of getting any sleep anyway, as the big group of Hari Krishna pilgrims near the front of the bus chanted the 'Hari Om' song, over and over and over again. I found it quite interesting, for the first dozen repetitions or so... A couple of hours later, I wanted to break all the tambourines over someone's head.

Rishikesh is known as the 'yoga capital of the world' and hippies flock there from all over. I felt a little out of place, as I wandered through the lungi-clad, dreadlocked, tofu-munching crowd. I had expected it to be a very interesting place, with fascinating and entertaining characters to talk to, but I didn't enjoy Rishikesh much at all. I found it hard to put my finger on exactly what it was, but I think it had something to do with the attitude of
Shivanand JhulaShivanand JhulaShivanand Jhula

The second bridge across the Ganges, near Swarg Ashram, where I stayed.
many 'spiritually-seeking' travellers there. So many of them seemed to be possessed by the ridiculous and incredibly arrogant assumption that by donning a lungi, reciting a mantra or two, and taking a couple of yoga classes, they could immediately access the deepest spiritual roots of this ancient culture. Having said that, I asked a lot of locals about it and they expressed only quiet amusement, so I guess I have no right to get too worked up about it. And it does provide a living for countless Babas, yoga instructors, and all kinds of 'holy men', so it can't be all bad.

I'd come to Rishikesh mainly because I'd heard there were a few places that offered very good white-water rafting down the Ganges River. Unfortunately however, they weren't running the higher grade rapids while I was there, so I only stayed a couple of days and then moved on. I spent most of my time in Rishikesh just walking along the banks of the Ganges, where I was very surprised to find some beautiful (and clean!) white-sand beaches. My fondest memories of Rishikesh are of sitting on one of these beaches around sunset, watching the Ganges reflection of
Rishikesh skyRishikesh skyRishikesh sky

The contrast between the dark sky and the white clouds was even more striking on the day.
the sun as it sank slowly behind the mountains, the moon glowing brighter and brighter in the deepening night. This scene was inevitably set to the 'pilgrim soundtrack', laughs & gasps from those bathing in the river's shallows, songs from the nightly ganga aarti ceremony at nearby shrines, a Baba playing a flute for his group of yoga students, and so on. At times like these, it was easy to see how Rishikesh gained its reputation as a place of spiritual significance.

When it came time to leave, it was with a strong sense of relief - no, more than that, almost elation! - that I realised my overnight bus to Delhi would be my last in India. =) On arriving, this hectic city once again sapped all of my energy and I'm a little embarassed to say I didn't do much at all during my final days in India. One notable exception was visiting the headquarters of the organisation I'd worked with in Paratwada, (EFICOR), to meet those I'd first contacted. It was great to be able to get a sense of the organisation as a whole and to thank them in person for the opportunity they'd given
Another of Swarg NiwasAnother of Swarg NiwasAnother of Swarg Niwas

Both temples are 13 stories high, and contain dozens of shrines to Hindu gods on each level.
me. I also found what has to be the most popular kurta shop in Delhi, and stocked up on a few of those classy and distinctively Indian shirts.

India is undoubtedly one of the most interesting and thought-provoking countries I've ever travelled in, but I know it'll be impossible to try and sum up my thoughts and observations here. I read somewhere that no matter what you say about India, it will be true and false in equal measure. Although that doesn't make complete sense, it does give you some idea what a paradoxical and diverse place India is. It is literally impossible to make any sweeping generalisations about the people, the food, the landscapes, the climate, and so on. (Someone suggested to me that India contains more genuine diversity than the whole of Europe.) Having seen so little of the country and having lived there for such a short time, I know I'm in no position to try and offer any profound insights into any aspect of it. I think India is one of those places that just has to be experienced. Often uncomfortable, always confronting and thought-provoking, it's the kind of place that brings you a little
I sent a box of stuff to my Thai address just before I left ParatwadaI sent a box of stuff to my Thai address just before I left ParatwadaI sent a box of stuff to my Thai address just before I left Paratwada

Seeing the condition it arrived in, I understood why the Paratwada PO had so many packing requirements before they'd accept it.
more alive, stretches you and your comfort zone, and inevitably brings you face-to-face with every aspect of life. Life without the sugar coating.

At any rate, let me cut short these pathetically inadequate reflections on India, and take this opportunity to say how proud I've been to be an Australian over the last couple of weeks! Just to qualify for the World Cup was a triumph in itself, but then the Socceroos went on to play quality football with the world's best and prove beyond all doubt their right to be there. (And to reach the quarter-finals at least, but let's not discuss the Italy game and that so-called 'penalty' here. =P) All the exchange students here, many of the Thai's, and half-a-dozen taxi drivers now know the "Aussie Aussie Aussie, Oi Oi Oi" chant very well indeed, (a little too well, most would probably say).


5th July 2006

Worth Waiting For!
Hey Michael your blog was worth waiting for! I loved the descriptions of the public transport and your thoughts on India. What a wonderful experience to have had; it will have enriched yiur life. I hope we don't have to wait 6 more weeks for the next blog!!
5th July 2006

Hola from San Sebastian!
Hey bro, really enjoyed your last blog on India. Lots of great insights into how life is there. Will definitely have to make it there sometime soon, hopefully with you as my guide!!! :P
5th July 2006

Loved your bus travel descriptions!
Great to receive the final epistle from India. Makes great reading! Why not send some of your musings on India to LP... I'm sure they would be interested. Your reflections on Rishikesh were great too. Loved the humour! Blessings!
6th July 2006

go india!
Hey michael, your time in India has sounded like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You have definitely inspired me to go there one day! I thoroughly enjoyed reading all your crazy adventures in India. That police escort must made you feel like a bollywood celebrity, no doubt.
7th July 2006

You should do this for living!
Ciao Michael! I have to say that i'm absolutely astonished of your writing capabilities, i can't stop reading your entries, they're great! i can feel the indian experience on my skin. Keep them coming, and of course keep taking these amazing pictures, they're absolutely gorgeous! I envy you, that's a beautiful place where you are, stay there as long as you can! (and take some time to visit us in this mortal land of the boot hehe). Take Care!
24th August 2006

Musings from a fellow traveller of India
Sensational writing, Michael! India is a place that is almost beyond description, but your words reflect my impressions of the country after 3 months there as well. India is the ultimate travel destination - and am pleased you could experience it. Even though you'll be 'glad' to have left, after a while, you may yearn for the chaos and colour, sounds and smells again - this country can be addictive.
29th July 2007

India is cool
Good about your blog..l would love to go there for study before dicied to SanFrancisco, however, still want to travel there...very very much but my job time is not support this..Let's quit next year :) Jeab from Koh Samet
21st October 2007

You ar
15th July 2010
View across the Lakshman jhula (pedestrian bridge)

Halo Ramaaaaaaaaaaaaa aaaaaaaHeloLakshmanaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa swamy Hanumaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
13th May 2012
View across the Lakshman jhula (pedestrian bridge)

I AM VERY HAPPY AND Feel very peace to visit laxman jhula last year. ARJUN NEUPANE CHIRANG ASSAM

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