Almora: Photoblog and Guide from an Amateur

Almora: Photoblog and Guide from an Amateur

Morning has brokenThe stunning views along the drive from Kathogodam to Almora – worth staying awake for! 

Chai StopBread PakhorasFollowed by the mandatory chai stop and my first bread pakhora? I think that’s what these are called? Anyway they’re bloody delicious and basically hot morsels or crispy, carby goodness! 

The Beautiful Blue HouseThe beautiful “Blue House”

Sunny YellowAnd our “Happy Yellow” room 😀

The Butterfly!The butterfly(!) that made my lap it’s home for half hour or so. The juxtaposition of my horrible acrylic nails only makes it more beautiful; whilst simultaneously ruining the photo.

Billionaire Boys ClubThe Billionaire Boy’s Club of Crank’s RIdge: These guys have seen it all – Dylan? Ginsberg? Just another hippy passing through..  

HeavenA mountain “meadow”. If I died and went to Heaven, this would suffice. 

BellsTemple BellsBells at the sanctuary of Kasar Devi temple – it even has a meditation room. A more spectacular temple is the famous Chitai Temple which makes the Kasar Devi’s collection of bells look poultry! The temple is in honour of Lord Shiva and newly married couples in particular make offerings here. It is about 10km from Almora and a fantastic walk! 

Putting out feet up!Putting our feet up and enjoying the view at Mohan’s, the social epicentre of Crank’s Ridge. Pity about the annoying telephone wires.. If not renting a house I would certainly recommend staying here. 

Last Supper

Rhododendron JuiceOur last supper (mercifully not another curry) accompanied by the fruity elixir and bibendum of the gods: rhododendron juice! Warning: will cause tooth decay. 

Other activities in Almora include hiking, biking (pedal and motor) and fishing to name a few  – basically anything outdoorsy. All can be booked at Mahon’s. There is also a lovely little shop called Panchachuli where fabrics and clothing, made by local women using traditional methods are sold. The factory and associated NGO are located further down the road, closer to Almora town.

I hope you are inspired to visit Almora and love it as much as I do!!

Relaxing in Rishikesh: Not What You’d Expect

Relaxing in Rishikesh: Not What You’d Expect

“Beatles ashram?” we asked hopefully to the two small village boys that stood idly across the overgrown forest trail. Our enquiry was met with vacant expressions. Apparently they weren’t fans. Yet despite the lack of guidance we found what we were looking for but a hundred feet or so further down the trail. And it was shut – fabulous. Our ‘relaxing weekend of yoga and meditation’ in Rishikesh had not exactly gone to plan. Arriving in the early hours of the morning after another crippling overnight bus journey we were met by a friendly four-legged centenary, christened Oedipus (owing to his funny apparently webbed feet)! Most of the time nothing makes sense in India, so whether Oedipus led us or followed, we found our way to a guest house – and passed out. Awakening, what felt like a week later and unbolting the door our gaze fell upon the best view of Laxman Jula. Well done Oedipus.

After gathering our thoughts and belongings we decided to do what one does in Rishikesh: yoga. We arrived to find our yogi either asleep or in a state of deep, impenetrable meditation. Probably the former. Not to worry, this is Rishikesh after all – we’ll go for a spot of Ayurvedic healing and get our doshas diagnosed. A long and uncomfortable motorbike journey later we arrived at “the absolute best clinic of Ayurveda in Rishikesh, madams” *said in thick and undulating Indian accent. The doctor was out: Fuck. This. “To the Beatles ashram!” we cried, which now, no longer a functioning ashram, seemed not be much of a tourist destination, judging by the fact that NO-ONE KNEW WHERE IT WAS. But it meant a scenic walk through some of the more rural parts of Rishikesh and, upon discovering it was closed, we decided to make our way back to town along the banks of the river Ganges, which the ashram sits right next to. Oh, the Mother Ganga, she always brings good things and this time she did not fail to deliver. Tired, hungry and a little pissed off we scrambled over sand banks, hopped over sewage pipes until we finally came to a bit of a clearing. Who should we find relaxing under the shade of a little bridge beside the Ganga – the babas of course; the best people in India!

Welcomed with the humble hospitality only a real baba can give we were ushered into the make shift tent of Baba G. I am always amazed at how easily conversation flows and how much one laughs when spending time with babas – nothing to do with the chillum pipe being passed round like a conveyer belt. They are such kind and open people. We spoke of the Kumbh Mela, which my friend and I had attended (along with hundreds of thousands of other babas and a hundred million other Hindus) earlier that year, Hindu philosophy and life. After sharing a tasty meal of daal, chapati (with the biggest mountain of sugar on it! Still don’t really understand that?) and chai it was getting late. We made our way back to Rishikesh stomachs, minds and hearts full of food, thoughts and love. The afternoon spent with Baba G had obviously caused our planets to align because on our way back to we stumbled across the evening Ganga Aarti at the Parmarth Niketan Ashram. Unfortunately the huge statue of Lord Shiva was not present to oversee the evening’s festivities, having been destroyed in the devastating floods that swept through Rishikesh earlier this year. The young boys from the ashram performed bhajans and offerings were made to Agni, the fire god. There is something really hypnotic about this performance and it is easy to get swept away by the beautiful voices and the ever audible roar of the Ganga.

So, Rishikesh, you weren’t what we’d planned but then when does a good plan go to plan anyway? However next time I come I would like to do at least one of things we’d set out to do! If you’ll permit it that is?

Maha Kumbh Mela: The Great Gathering

Maha Kumbh Mela: The Great Gathering

“India is like LSD” proclaimed Raj, our guesthouse owner, adopted Indian Daddy and source of all wisdom. “You either have a good trip or a bad trip, but either way, at least you’ve had a trip! And,” he added, waving a chubby, ring-clad hand towards my face “you girls are going to have one hell of a trip at the Kumbh Mela”.

It was difficult to imagine, as I sat munching on my cornflakes, listening to the BBC breakfast news, what event could possibly be so important that it could draw crowds from all over India to one single location. I am sure many of you will be familiar with the feeling of wanting to return to India the moment you arrive home. So when I read about the 2013 Kumbh Mela I knew I could not put off this trip any longer. For those of you who have been to India before, you will be aware of the vivacious approach most Indians have towards life. Nowhere, in my experience, was this more apparent than at the Maha Kumbh Mela. This was not only a festival for only the devoutly religious, but for friends, family and travellers too.

As we drove along the turbulent road from Varanasi to Allahabad we began to see a glowing haze in the distance. The sight that greeted our eyes, as we pressed our noses against the jeep’s dusty windows, was a world turned upside down. A universe of street lights expanding in front of us as far as the eye could see, blotting out the natural starlight with its own man made galaxy. No newspaper report or personal account could have prepared us for the sheer scale of this pop up “tented city”. You simply have to see it to believe it; and even then you don’t.

image-1-city-of-lights1To put it into perspective, the site is divided up into sectors, each containing around a million happy campers. This is over three Glastonburys in one sector. There are 28 sectors. That’s around 84 Glastonburys all going on at once over the course of not a weekend, but an entire month. And that only includes the die-hard devotees who stay for the entire festival. There would be an additional 100 million festival goers attending for the main bathing days. A bit like the entire population of Mexico deciding that they wanted to join in the fun.

But what could possibly be so important that it could draw such a colossal number of people to one place? I struggle to imagine anything creating such frenzy in the UK as the Kumbh Mela did in India. Hindus believe that four drops of nectar fell from the ‘Kumbh’ or ‘pitcher’ carried by the gods, creating the holy rivers sacred to Hindu religion: the Ganges, the Sangam, the Yamuna, the Godawari, the Shipra and the mythical Saraswati. It is believed that at certain times of the religious calendar these rivers take on increased religious properties and have the power to cleanse anyone who washes themselves in the river’s waters of their eternal sins.

As the sun began to rise, the street lamps dimmed and the festival spirit began to take on momentum. We watched the first of the pilgrims quietly making their way to the banks of the river Ganges before quickly de-robing and even more quickly braving its chilly waters: just three dunks is all it takes to rid one of their eternal sins.

image-3-women-about-to-take-a-dipFor anyone that has not been to India, in my opinion the Kumbh Mela would be an incredible introduction to this country so rich in history and culture. And for those who have been several times it will offer something new. The next Kumbh Mela will be held in Nashik on the banks of the Godavari River. It will take place between August-September 2015 – only a couple of years to go! My friends Alice, Natasha and I intend to embark upon our version of Berwick’s famous “Walk along the Ganges” and make the pilgrimage on foot. Come join us!

If you are interested in finding out more about the Kumbh Mela the BBC made an informative documentary on it recently. Whilst there are some aspects of the BBC doc that do not quite ring true for me, I like the fact that they put great effort into communication the peaceful nature of this momentous occasion and it’s significance without sensationalising it. Shortcut to Nirvana is also an excellent watch.