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A Mumbai Train

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Dave is right… It’s the guy on the left who makes the image. Neha, my charming airbnb host, believes it’s the guy standing, but he’s the bass, not the lead. BTW, Dave is a girl with a boy’s name, and she’s not a girl but a young woman who works as an editor for India’s largest daily. Ten minutes before, the 2 inseparable friends stumbled into the flat; it’s only 9, they’re already drunk and giggling uncontrollably. I took the foto earlier that day in Mumbai’s urban train as it was nearing Andheri station. My station. Andheri (west) is where Neha lives with her boyfriend in a slick apartment dating from the 30s or 40s. The lights are low and we sit on the floor. I sip red wine and the girls argue over where I should buy a piece of leather for my new leather bike grips that came with fake leather from Taiwan. We listen to the Orb and venture to the window sill every 10-15 minutes to smoke that cigarette. The two share panda eyes… ‘I stay up every night and smoke and giggle eyes’. Knackered, Neha vanishes into her bedroom… Dave stays behind a few minutes then retires; I told you, the two are inseparable. I’m left looking at my images; a Mumbai night finally cools, some red wine left in the bottle and there’s the window sill, waiting to be finished.

On the Edge

VeiledWomanVaranasi-D70_5934Yes she’s shy, like so many women in India are. In a 2 by 3 meter Varanasi brick and dirt cubicle, she lives with her husband and 3 children. There’s no door… On the dirt floor there’s a thin mattress where the 5 sleep. Yet, there exists a huge fighting spirit in this woman, and she’s proud of the tea she makes for me. When you live on the edge, the only thing that matters is now.

Chased by 2 Shivas

 

Chased by 2 Shivas
Chased by 2 Shivas

I’m being chased by 2 Shivas. Around 5, Neeraj picked me up on his scooter and we headed to the main gat in Ujjain for one of the most important Aarti events (fire ritual at sunset) of Khumb Mela… It’s the most auspicious bathing day of the entire festival, and literally millions have been gathering all day along the banks of the sacred Shipra river. Neeraj knows the young priests, we’re in the inner circle. Skinny young holly men draw large circles with fire in the air facing all cardinal directions while drums are being played and the Aarti climaxes with people caressing the flames with their hands and touching their face. I’m left to my own as Neeraj has to rush home. Alone to cross an ocean of 100, 200, 300 thousand people packed in the tiny Ujjain streets. It’s hot, I’m still recovering from my bike ride from Indore, the flu is peaking in my throat and I’m in cold sweat mode, almost shivering. I come across a young boy dressed as a pink Shiva, complete with his trident… ‘Cool’… After a few photos, his twin appears, this time it’s the blue version, smaller, but much more aggressive, like they always are. They both begin to whip my bald head with long broom like things which is a sort of blessing; ‘there, I’ve blessed you, now give me money’… Within seconds, they’re chasing me down Ujjain, amidst a tightly packed crowd of thousands of festival goers and obviously, these thousands of people all have eyes, all keenly focused on the bald sweaty white guy being chased by twin Hindu deities, one blue and one pink, screaming Money Money Money. Thus begins the weirdest 10 minutes of my life. Relentless, they won’t give up… Money Money Money!!! This is not happening… This is not happening. They’re like two little machines; unstoppable, un-exhaustable and un-lostable. A normal person would have stopped after 10-20 meters. If I stop, they’ll just hit my bald head a million times with that broom thing saying Money, Money, Money with identical gusto… I’ll look even more ridiculous. Obviously, it’s easy to spot the bald white man, the only white man, at the event. A kilometer of about 100 Money Money Money later, I finally reach a police post… The Shivas vanish.

3 Ways to Experience Buddhism in Chiang Mai

The west face of the main building of Wat Suandok
The west face of the main building of Wat Suandok

When visitors spend one or two weeks in Chiang Mai, they will normally visited a few temples and photographed some Buddhist monks. Here are ways to go deeper into this philosophy and start to practice and understand some Buddhist concepts.

1. Give alms

Each morning, all Buddhist monks get up before dawn and set to walk in and around their respective temples. The goal is to collect offerings in the form or food or even money. In exchange, the giver receives blessings in the form of a chant.

What to do: Put your offering in the monk’s alms bowl and kneel while bringing your hands in a praying position while lowering your head. The monk will chant for about 1 minute.

Where to do it: At any moment when you see a monk walk around between 4:30 and 7AM. The most popular place to do this in Chiang Mai is the at the Chiang Mai Gate Market near the South-East corner of the old city where dozens of monks gather every morning.

Child giving alms at Chiang Mai Gate Market in Chiang Mai
Child giving alms at Chiang Mai Gate Market in Chiang Mai

2. Attend a Dharma talk

A Dharma talk will give you the opportunity to directly discuss Buddhism with monks. You will be introduced to the basic principals of Buddhism such as karma and precepts, learn about daily life for a monk and even be allowed to ask questions.

Where to do this: Wat Suandok offers a 2 hour talk beginning at 17:00 Monday to Friday.

3. Learn to meditate

Meditation is at the center of Buddhism; this is the way the Buddha attained enlightenment. Contrary to popular beliefs, meditation is not practiced while listening to relaxing music. It’s a practice which takes time, regularity and discipline. There are several methods but the ones taught and practiced in Thailand are mostly Vipassana and walking meditation.

Where to do it: Wat Rampoeng (temple) offers a mini 10 meditation retreat. If you have more time, they also offer one of 26 days. These two retreats are considered very basic introduction but will give you a very strong basis for a life long practice which will change your life.

Wat Suandok offers a tiny 2 day retreat.

The historical Wat Umong also offers a retreats. We suggest that you show up a few days before you decide to begin your retreat.

Please be warned that you will need to obey the very strict rules which are a part of daily life in a Buddhist temple.

Northern Walker

Thorn Club Tour parked up for the nightNon-touring cycling friends often ask me: ‘What’s the best touring bicycle you can buy?’ In some respects, it’s a hard question to answer as the
choice of bike hinges on so many factors, not least the kind of journeys you are planning to undertake. That said, the simple answer to the question more often than not would be: ‘The bike in your garage or shed.’ A solid mountain bike, road bike or hybrid will be sufficient for your first tour.

For the purposes of this post, though, I will focus on the ‘dedicated’ touring cycle, which can be loosely categorised as ‘traditional touring cycles’, ‘expedition touring cycles’ and ‘others’ – including folding bicycles for touring. Not intended to be a definitive list, it does feature models that are available for purchase in the UK.

I thought it was about time I updated this post as it it generates so much traffic on this site. So…

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