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Crazy India

INDIA | Wednesday, 15 August 2012 | Views [613]

India is one country which has always been on my list of countries ‘not to visit’.

Reason due to  hearing about the horror stories of extreme food poisoning, the poverty, beggars, pollution, crowds and the 1001 parasites which infest your stomach for life.

So I thought it was time to face my fears and go check out India for myself, so with half a kilo of emergency toilet paper (just incase), bottle of grapeseed oil (which is a super must in preventing food poisoning), I hit the road to India with my mate Rakesh.

We arrived into Dehli in the early hours of the morning. After hearing about the horror stories of Dehli, I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and modern the airport was, very similar to Changi in Singapore.

We were met by our driver who we had pre-organised to drive us up to Dharamashala (home of the Dalai Lama) in the Himalayas. Our driver informed us it was 600km to Dharmashala and in my Australian ignorance I thought 'oh yeah, no worries that should only take us 5-6hours....'

 

13 hours later!!! after experiencing half completed roads, several near head on collisions with donkeys, cats, cows, chickens, motorbikes bearing several generations of families and massive trucks being driven by drunk drivers (apparently it’s a pre-requisite in India to be drunk to drive a truck!),

 I quickly learnt travel in India is long and exhausting.

We made it to Dharmashala in the late evening to the Vipassana meditation centre (check out www.dhamma.org), where for 10days we sat on meditation cushions in silence,  fed amazing Indian vegetarian food and got harassed by crazy monkeys who loved breaking and entering into your room and bed bugs which just loved making a feast of you.  

 

Having survived being eaten alive by bed bugs and testosterone filled monkeys, we left the Vipassana course feeling quite peaceful (meditation does have its benefits) as we drove down to Amritsar in the Punjab region to meet up with my brother and his Seikh partner.

 The Seikhs welcomed us with open arms and were incredibly hospitable during our stay there;  showering us in Jewellery, tailor made clothes and overfeeding us on amazing food, minus the after burn effect! They even demanded we were to come to weddings of people who we didn’t even know nor never met!

We were quick to learn in India, there is a saying ‘if your white its love and first site’, as wherever we travelled in the Punjab people wanted photos with my brother and I, in particular my brother who is 6ft 7 and wears the local gear.

 The Seikh families, who have adopted my brother as their own, took myself and Rakesh to the world famous Golden temple (Gurdwara), where thousands of people 24/7 congregate in the holy waters, pray and pay respect to their Gurus. The Golden temple is made of solid Gold and has been there since 1574.

It was an incredible experience and the energy there is unexplainable. After being covered in holy water and bowing countless times, we then experienced the kitchens of the Gurdwara, where 1000’s of people are fed daily for free. The Siekhs believe everyone, no matter their caste, religion or background must be given a free meal. We lined up with the 1000’s of others with plates to receive our meal of rice, dahl and chappatis and ate amongst beggars, poor people and rich people.

 

The rest of our time spent in the Punjab involved temples, being covered in henna paint, meeting locals and sightseeing in the city and farms. We were blessed at one point in our journey to befriend an awesome woman by the name of Bhavna, who organised us VIP passes and personal police escorts to the Wagha border, to witness the lowering of the flags ceremony between Pakistan and India, a ceremony which has been conducted every evening since 1959. The military men on both sides of the fence are dressed in interesting hats and full military uniform and conduct dances and marches which resemble more of a gymnastics performance then a military parade.

 

With new Punjab clothes and hands covered in Henna, we farewelled the Punjab region and joined friends for a nine day 4wd trip through the hill stations of the Himalayas with a Yogi. It was an incredible experience, firstly to meet an Englightened yogi, who doesn’t eat, sleep or drink water and yet had the most amazing level of energy, it was hard to keep up with him!

The Yogi was an incredible being, just being in his presence you felt very peaceful, happy and energised.

We attended a two day festival in the Yogi’s ashram, where we met Sadhus who taught us how to harness the suns energy through meditation techniques, met famous Indian musicians and amazing local people. After the festival the Yogi took our small group travelling through the hill stations, where we met local people who housed us and fed us amazing Indian food. We saw the Dalai Lama on his 77th birthday in his monastery, had tea with local politicians and doctors and explored the many markets and streets of the Himalayas.  

 

Sadly after an amazing week, we parted ways with our group of friends and the Yogi in a small town called Palampur.

 Rakesh and I then drove up to the beautiful tourist town Manali, which is situated at the foothills of the Himalayas. There we met our Indian friends with their Toyota Hiace van. For some crazy reason without prior knowledge we all decided to drive 420kms from Manali to Leh in the Kashmir region.

Setting off on the road to Leh, we quickly realised we’d ended up on some of the world’s worst roads. We faced sheer cliff faces, landslides, roads which would suddenly disappear, waterfalls which had washed out sections of road and to top it off we all came down with altitude sickness.

 

One mate was so sick we ended up in a military hospital where the doctor yelled at us for not wearing proper footwear (thongs or bare feet are not appropriate at 17,000ft) and warm clothing.

Soon after visiting the military hospital we then bogged the car in deep sand.  Due to the altitude we couldn’t dig  the car out because it caused us to get dizzy and out of breath. Luckily in the distance we spotted roadworkers, after paying them 1000 Rupees, we witnessed 15 small men literally lift the car out of the sand.  Phew!

 It took us 2 days of solid driving to cross the distance to Leh, only stopping  briefly to sleep in roadside tents in the middle of now-where, with a group of random motorcyclists.  

We arrived into Leh totally tired, cold and frozen.  The experience though tough was still amazing and learnt next time to pack an oxygen bottle, a shovel and a helluva lot of warm weather gear if proceeding above sea level!

 

We spent a few days in Leh, with its incredible beauty of red snow capped mountains and beautiful Buddhist monasteries. However we realised we had also ended up in a part of the country which is still considered a war zone. To go anywhere in Leh was like red tape wrapped up  a 1000 times, as we struggled to get permits to visit famous icons, their reason for all the paperwork was to deter potential terrorists.

 We eventually got permits and headed to the world’s highest lake, Lake Pangong, visited magnetic hill, where gravity pulls your car up the mountain and spent time drinking chai with the locals.

The few days spent in Leh were amazing but tough on the lungs due to the altitude, so it was good to head back to sea level and back to oz.  

 Few things I learnt from my time in India- the Indians are incredibly hospitable and community oriented, have a great sense of humour and a laid back way of seeing the world (which sometimes drives westerners nuts). We Learnt to drink a lot of Grape Seed oil and avoided getting sick.

You will more likely need half a kilo of toilet paper (not for the runs) but the fact that most of India does not have toilet paper (scarce and expensive). Pack an Oxygen cylinder and a shovel if you intend on going into the Himalayas on some of the worlds worst roads, but most of all go with an open mind, just go with the flow and as they say in India, just Bindas (chillax). J

 

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