Return to India - Gurus and Ashrams

Trip Start Feb 20, 2002
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Trip End Nov 18, 2002


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Tuesday, July 9, 2002

-- Return to India

Leaving Nepal I have to admit that I was a tad bit apprehensive of returning to India. Although I'd enjoyed the viciously exotic subcontinent on my previous visit, it was the most challenging of countries that I'd been to and returning was a hard pill to swallow. To survive as a backpacker in India it was necessary to pull up a hard don't-mess-with-me face and stone-cold, I-know-what-you're-up-to eyes. Something that does tend to take the fun out of carefree travel.

I sat back on my Royal Nepal airlines flight next to the most rude and annoying Indian man I'd ever had the displeasure of meeting and thought of whether I would spend the previously planned 2 weeks in India or whether I'd fly out early to Jordan. After 30 minutes of ignoring my neighbor's twitch-inducing symphony of burps, rude hisses to the flight attendant and loud god-awful signing, I hoped that Bangalore would hold true to it's promise and be easy travelling. I had been told that the South of India was easy ( relatively ) and less intense than the north, only time would tell.

As we approached Mumbai ( better known as Bombay before its name change back to the traditional Mumbai after Indian independence ) the loud roaring engines of the plane I was caged in very suddenly lowered to a quite hum. The contents of my stomach flung up, sticking to the bottom of my throat as the plane began to drop from the sky. All of the passengers stretched their necks to look out of the windows. The clouds were racing passed, upwards at an alarming rate. Calmly, I wondered what was going on. I'd flown enough times in Asia to know that this wasn't normal. Were the engines dying? Were we on our way down? I looked at my hand which was holding a book I'd been reading. It was glazed with shiny sweat. My heart pumped quickly and adrenaline flushed my cheeks a spotty red. The stewards were still busily tending drinks, which was reassuring. I stopped to wonder why I was in mid-panic and realized that, although a plane falling in mid flight was enough to cause anyone to panic, my "taliban" yelling experience from Bangkok to KL had induced a slight phobia within my subconscious. I calmly though back to the nightmares I'd been having. I had been having dark dreams of hijacked planes and areal crashes for 2 weeks now. Thankfully I was off the Larium and wasn't panicking but I couldn't control my heart from pounding and my hands from dripping with cold sweat. I still had alot of flying left before I would return home in 5 months and prayed that I would be able to overcome this slight paranoia. I knew that what ever was going to happen in our tumbling airliner, I couldn't do anything about it and panic was the worse thing that I could do. Luckily, I had been practicing meditation for days and reading intensely on techniques. This was an ideal time to put theory into practice.

The meditation was a breathing exercise. The most basic of Buddhist introductory meditations. Breathing in, repeating, "one one" and breathing out "two two" until ten, then restarting at "one one". My breath was so hurried that I could only count "one", "two", "three" and so on. The double count would need to be practiced outside of a plane plummeting at frightening speeds from the sky.

It helped. I slowly transported myself into mindful oblivion until the plane landed. The pilot must have made a drastic dropping manouevre to avoid oncoming turbulence I told myself. The landing was bumpy yet smooth. A quick self-check confirmed that I was still in one piece.

When I reached the ground I was ready for India. A travel hardened bad-ass ready for the onslaught. Having been to India before, I had now earned the right to answer a solid "No" when asked "Is this your first time in India?" by street hawkers attempting to size me up as either a first time sucker or a less wary veteran. I shoed away taxi touts and ignored shouting hawkers with ease unlike I had when I arrived in Delhi 4 months before. I wasn't phased for a second and made my way to a hotel with practiced confidence.

-- The soft, quiet, "Bang" of Bangalore

I was expecting the heavy hit of India. The stench of cow dung. The constant pulling at my sleeve of swarming beggars. The incessant loud honking... but, it never came.

Walking out into the streets of Bangalore I quickly realized that the south, well at least, Bangalore, was different from the north.

Bangalore, India's Silicon Valley, was a modern, hi tech, (relatively) clean city. Despite it's relative ease and safety, Bangalore was a boring place to idle in. Within 3 hours of walking through a grocery store to get some supplies and wandering the streets I had already bought my ticket to Hampi for 2 days later. I also booked a day trip for the next day to Mysore to gawk at it's famous palace. I guess you could say that I didn't really want to stay in a place that reminded me of home for very long. The odd familiarity of Bangalore to Canada was disconcerting and it shot me straight into a mild bout of depression. The constant rain didn't help, literally casting a gray cloud over everyday since my arrival. It rained everyday in the south, after all, it was monsoon season. Gray skies and sheets of rain did their best to keep a smile off my face at every moment.

Worse off all, I was getting lazy. Having been travelling at a breakneck pace from Laos to Malaysia to Singapore to Nepal, Tibet back to Nepal then off to Bangalore. I was tired. Until now I hadn't needed any downtime. Even when I had been sick, I still trudged on through incapacitating diarrhea mixed with a throat-crushing flu. When I finally returned back to my overpriced double room which I was force to rent when I arrived the night before and Bangalore seemed to be devoid of any free single rooms, I sat starring blankly at the TV for hours, watching game after game of World Cup soccer. I ordered a pizza a few kingfishers and justified the unusual laziness as a much needed mental and physical timeout.

-- Day trip to Mysore

There weren't any white skinned foreigners on the bus. It was jammed with Indian tourists, as a matter of fact I hadn't seen any westerners in Bangalore since I'd arrived. Well it was after all monsoon season and since the tensions with Pakistan started to reach a boiling point, the tourists had fled. Being in a bus loaded with Indian tourists was a comforting feeling as the locals took me under their wing making sure I didn't get ripped off or annoyed too much by the constant hordes of beggars and hawkers that always seems to swarm and annoyingly follow me for unusually long periods of time as I tried to shoe them off. It wasn't until I mastered the perfect "shoeing-technique" that I'd finally be left alone. The technique, refined by studying masterful Indians, consisted of a vague floppy wave of the hand, a distant lazy glance in the opposite direction and a determined walk in the opposite direction. Once mastered, the annoyance-repellant worked like magic.

First stop on the tour was a Christian church. Normally I wouldn't set foot into a church unless a death/birth/marriage was taking place but in the land of elephant gods and multi-armed deities, it was strangely comforting to be in a church. Being inside reminded me of home. Not that I devoutly visited the church but having gone to a catholic school, I'd seen my share of churches and was transported back to childhood years walking through the familiarly constructed church.

The remainder of the tour was extremely bland and rushed. Of course, the monsoon poured it's unrelenting pellets down on us. It was a 3 hour drive to Mysore, aside from all of the minor sights on the agenda, I was just in it for the palace tour which was to be one of the most awesome sights in the city. As we rolled into the palace compound we could see something was amiss. It turned out that government delegates were visiting the palace and the site was closed to guests. We couldn't visit. This had the result of provoking most of the Indians on the bus into half fury, which was a delightful distraction. The Indians began shouting at the tour guide in a comically entertaining world class fit of we-pay-taxes-for-the-palace-AND-their-salary-and-can't-even-visit-the-palace!! to Government bashing to refund demands to hindi garble which I was immediately lost in.

It was nice to have yelling Indians on my side for once. We never did get the refund but seeing as how boring the tour was, it did provide a minor highlight to an otherwise yawner of a day.

I had forgotten just how cheap India was. When we stopped for lunch I ordered a north Indian Thali. I was brought a large plate with rice, bread and 6 curries. The total cost was a meager 50 cents US. I could get used to this.

We ended the day by visiting some depressing delapidated botanical gardens and finally headed home to arrive late in the night.

For my last day in Bangalore I visited a temple, which was abandoned and ... well another yawner. I wasn't sure if I was just getting immune to the exoticness of it all or whether it was actually drab, one thing was for sure, I was happy at the thought of going to a new continent for the last 4 months of my trip. A change of scenery would have done wonders for my morale.

-- Happiness is Hampi

One overnight train in a typically overcrowded 2nd class sleeper to Hospet and an ass-slapping bus ride to Hampi later I settled into a cheap comfortable room in the tiny shanti-cum-village.

Hampi, unlike Bangalore had character. The landscape of boulder-built mountains and reddish brown rock formations was a welcomed exotic treat. The mountains, or hills to be more precise, were quizzical, almost seeming as if someone had constructed them by piling mammoth rock over rock. It was hard to imagine how the massive boulders leaning on each other could have formed such hills naturally. The mystery kept me going until, after 3 hours of touring I decided that I wasn't quite ready yet for sight seeing and slogged back to my room to sit, vegetate and think of ways to pass the following 2 weeks in India.

-- Gurus and Ashrams

"Do you meditate?" The Indian man at the table next to us at the restaurant asked, interrupting a vivid discussion Guy, my Irish neighbor at the guest house, and the 3 girls we'd met earlier that day were having on absolutely everything and utterly nothing all at once.

I put my drink down and turned aside, "Uhhh, yeah well, I try to...", trying to adjust my eyes to see who was talking.

Krishna explained that he had an Ashram next to some of the stone temples in Hampi. After a brief chat we returned to our smuggled beers and sumptuous Indian curries. Hampi, much to our surprise, was a holi city, beer was strictly forbidden but we had found a dinner which, if we promised to keep the bottles under the table, would send a boy out to the next village to pick up some cold Kingfishers for us.

Krishna was standing behind me, "Here, take this, it is for you. Read it and if you would like to come by tomorrow, ask around town for Krishna's and someone will take you to my place." Krishna said as he slipped a folded piece of paper into my hand and glided out of the restaurant.

"... Oh and one more thing, if you come, come alone, this isn't just an ashram, it's my fucking home." He said smiling. His fluent use of english cuss words at first was odd but seemed to flow into his speech with innocent fluidity. We all laughed calmly at his bizarre invitation.

As soon as he left, the conversation ignited once again. As the group was raptured in discussion, I casually opened the note and read it privately.

"Ego=
Anger=
Jealeasy=
Fear=
Lust=
Greed=
Guilt=
Revenge=
Suspicion-doubt=
Who am I?
What am I?

Well, if you are in a plane and something happens, you won't have to ask 'where am I?'"

I folded it back up and discreetly crammed the note into my back pocket. He must have overheard my story which I had told about my flight to Bangalore and my first successful attempt at meditation. I wasn't sure what exactly the note meant but I was intrigued enough to postpone my exit from Hampi by a day to visit the Ashram for an explanation the next day.

-- Huts in the rubble

The next morning I awoke late and slowly made my way into town to find the Ashram. "Excuse me, do you know where Krishna's is?" I asked a local who was sitting back, feet kicked up, in a tiny wodden box, selling sweets.

He snapped straight up, "Of course, follow me" the man said as he jumped over the counter to take me down the main road to the far end of the city.

Krishna's house was tucked away in the rocky rubble surrounding Hampi amidst palm trees and giant boulders, perfect for quiet meditation.

After greeting Krishna, my personal guide to the secluded house vanished and I was taken inside his large, airy, grass hut built around a large boulder which stuck out from the center of his room. The boulder pierced through the brown dirt in the center of the room and was strewn with statues and amulets.

"So tell me Krishna, what exactly is an 'Ashram' anyways?", I asked looking around his shack.

Krishna sat on the floor, "It is a place to learn, meditate, practice yoga and such. Many villagers send their sons and daughters to stay here for years and learn non-academic spiritual paths. You see, I am a guru." he said with a half smile.

Huh, I'd have never guessed that he was a guru. Krishna had spent years travelling and working abroad, even setting up yoga schools in the UK. Out of respect, he had been given a plot of land by a local and had since turned the land into a quiet, very basic, living ground for himself and also to teach and instruct on yoga, meditation and other spiritual matters. I was the only person there, aside from a local boy who seemed to serve his every need. After talking for a few hours, which was extremely easy to do, I stopped to think that he was like a tribal psychologist, analysing thoughts, emotions and actions all with the distinct goal of seeking happiness. Although Krishna was a Hindu, many of the things he said had a striking similarity to Buddhism and the search for enlightenment.

We discussed many things as the afternoon passed. I still wasn't quite sure why he had invited me to the Ashram and finally I had to ask...

"So, did we want to do anything today? Like meditation or something?" I said impatiently.

"No, now is my siesta time, if you would like, you can return tomorrow morning at 9am, and join me for my meditation and perhaps practice some yoga."

"Alright sounds good.", I made another quick mental note to postpone my exit from Hampi once again. "Before I go... I was wondering... what was that note you left me yesterday"

"yes, the note... what you must do is look within yourself, as you do by meditation, and think, do you have anger, jealeasy, and so on. Only by identifying these negative emotions and feelings and by forgiving others, and yourself, can you be truly content. Then, you will know who you are. You cannot simply ask yourself 'who am I?', it will simply come to you..."

A familiar exercise of self-examination which I had already begun while studying Buddhism. Krishna was refreshingly down to earth and intelligent, not some high brow spiritual guru flying high on his mystical cloud. I was looking forward to returning the next morning for a more thorough session.

-- The Hampi time zone

Like an old cassette player who's batterries had run down, time seemed to sssslllloooowwww in Hampi. Days passed and hours melted away like butter into the mellow small town Hampi frying pan. After a few days of sight seeing with Guy, locals new our names and it all seemed very familiar. Eating at our "regular" spot, watching the sun set from the temple mount and lazing days away in the pleasantly warm sun. The monsoon had broken after 2 days and we had been lucky enough to bask in some morale-lifting rays.

It seemed that every morning I was waking up to the same routine of postponing of my departure from Hampi. Hampi was a small quaint village with eye-popping scenery and temples galore. Every person I'd spoken with who'd come from Goa, my next planned destination, warned of the never-ending rain and depressing gray skies. It's no wonder I had a hard time deciding to leave for Goa. Having slept in until 11am every morning I had missed every single chance to meet Krishna for a meditation session. I would walk over to his hut at noonish, and be greeted with the same "Well, it's a little too late now. Maybe tomorrow, you come earlier".

On my last morning, the one which I actually decided that the only way to leave was to book a train ticket to Goa, I marched over to Krishna's by 9am with this-is-my-last-chance determination.

When I arrived, Krishna was reading a newspaper with a chai and a cigarette. "I see you arrived on time today". This was an odd greeting as we had never actually set a time before, which also made it hard for me to understand why everytime I would show up that he would say that I was late.

Over the passed days, we'd had dinner with Krishna, stayed up until 3am chatting and drinking and gotten to know him fairly well. After some friendly chatter, we began some guided meditation. For 2 hours we sat quietly in his hut as he instructed on different ways of meditation and corrected my posture and breathing.

The session was good. Short enough to not drive me mad and mellow enough to allow me to sink into deep pseudo-sleep.

Feeling that I had actually accomplished something and it was only 11am, I headed back to meet up with Guy, waving at merchants and locals I'd come to know along the way.

-- Motos in the hills

To end our last day, we decided to rent motorcycles and drive through the stubbly countryside ending the day on some outcrop overlooking the martian landscape of Hampi. Riding around in our scooters we took in some of the last sights which we had missed in Hampi since we'd arrived and watched the sun begin to set over the monkey temple ending our day atop a giant rock overlooking the tiny village of Hampi. We hadn't quite realized just how small Hampi was until an areal view drove it home. Hampi was minuscule. 3000 locals, who I'd suspected knew each other by name, inhabited the small town.

Having decided that it was my time to leave, I made good on my booking for Goa and awoke early (4am) the next morning to make the journey West.

-- Goa - What rain?

It was monsoon season and Goa was notorious for it's non-stop sheets of rain which plagued the beach during this time. I was fully prepared for a drenched beach experience. I didn't care, it was still the beach. The sound of crashing waves still filled the air and soothed the soul. I was going for it.

After one rickshaw, one train, another rickshaw, a bus, another bus... and finally another rickshaw ride, I arrived on the beach. It was desolate to say the least.... but it was sunny, the rain had stopped. The 2 weeks of non-stop down pour had passed and the sun was finally out. The locals informed me that the sun was to stay for a few days. What luck!

Palolem beach was a ghost town. 80% of the shops and hotels were closed for the season and I struggled to find a room, finally settling in at a beach resort which stayed open to accommodate the trickle of guests which made it out to Goa.

Barely a handful of tourists wandered the streets and after 1 day we all knew each other by name. Time went by quickly, taken up by sitting by the beach, sharing a drink with locals and of course... the world cup finals which even on this empty beach, could be seen at a local bar-cum-meeting spot, the Cool Breeze Bar.

Sitting at the bar, a man next to me looked out onto the plummeting rain as a passing shower was dripping down. "Huh, rain... again... you know you picked the wrong season to come to Goa."

"Yeah, I've heard...". This being the eigth time I'd been told this..

Unfortunately 2 days after I arrived, even the Cool Breeze Bar closed it's doors. The beach was on it's way to true ghost-town status. I had initially told myself that I would stay until the weather got better but now, I was itching to leave. I needed some company.

The next morning, Hogan, a dreadlocked, local Indian beach dweller who worked in a now-closed restaurant on the beach and his soon to be Norwegean wife invited me over for drinks at their place. I gladly jumped onto the back of Hogan's moto and drove out to the Goan countryside for some drinks. We sat on their balcony as they recounted their troubles arranging the wedding. Goans, I soon found out, liked to talk and talk they did. By mid afternoon, as the sun was beginning it's slow ascent over the beachline, I headed back for yet another solitary evening laying my in hammock and sipping cocktails.

Che, the waiter I'd come to know at my guest house, walked over to my hammock, looking out over the beach, scratched his stubbly beard and sighed. "You know, this beach is packed in the high season, you came at the wrong time, mate", he said looking out over the desolate white sandy beach.

Eyes still locked on the horizon, I slowly rocked my hammock, "Mmm, yeah, I know... I know.." I said, pursing my lips with mock-passive-surprise, as if hearing this news for the first time.

The next morning, I slowly shuffled to the restaurant for my routine breakfast of toast and coffee where two new faces sat on the sandy patio.

The Indian man in his mid 30's cracked a giant smile as he caught sight of another guest. "Good morning! Hey, why don't you join us for a drink." The man greeted. His wife frowned and slapped his arm in disapproval.

"Jude, it's 9am, it's too early for a drink, have a coffee instead" she said in a sign-song Indian voice.

"Nono, it's our holiday, we can have a drink, common now.". This would be Jude's argument for the next days of copious drinking.

I eagerly accepted. We sat and sipped on cold Kingfisher's as the day dragged on and I listened to them chat away. I could barely get a word in edgewise. It seemed as though Jude was just as happy to have met someone else on the beach as I was.

When noon rolled around, a good beer-buzz was washing the drab weather away as the fishermen finally pulled in the fishing nets they had been nursing all morning on the beach. The nets shook and bulged with live fish of every color, shape and smell.

Jude sprang up from his seat to get a better view of the catch,"Shall we go have a look?" he offered, glugging back the last inches of beer in his glass.

"Sure, why not." I said, glad at the prospect of finding something new to do.

Jude, Loretta and I walked over, to examine the catch. Crabs, giant fish, eels and piles of unidentifiable fish were squirming and twitching in the fat net as we thumbed through the loot picking out a half basket of prawns and a giant mackerel. We paid the rough equivalent of a candy bar for the catch and went back to the hotel to find a chef to fry up our seafood.

Jude was giddy with excitement. "Tonight we will feast Luc!" he shouted as he slapped my back.

The hotel cook offered to cook up our fish with delicious Masala sauce and batter and feast ... we ... did.

"Luc, you must visit us in Calangute", I had no idea where that was but snatched up the offer before even consulting my Lonely Planet. To my luck, Jude and Loretta's home was in Goa, 90 clicks north, next to the beach.

My last day on Palolem Beach had come. I packed my bags, checked out of the hotel and walked towards the bus stand.

"Goodbye Luc" the waiter shouted.
"See you Luc" the man at the bread stall waved.
"Later mate!" The resident Hippy commune shouted through a haze of smoke.

"Later!", everyone waved as I made my final march down the main road. It seemed as though in just 5 days, I'd managed to meet three quarters of the town's population. I waved goodbye to my "old" friends and hopped on the bus. As I slumped back into my rear seat with my backpack between my legs the monsoon rain finally started pounding down on the bus's metallic roof. It seemed, that I had just left in time.

-- Calangute

The directions I was given to reach Jude's house were sketchy, at best.

"Just go to the Domino's pizza and I live a few houses down. Everyone knows where the domino's is, and if you get lost, just ask around for 'Jude's place'" everyone knows me. "

Lucky for me, everyone did know Jude. Jude was a bartender at the local 5 star resort and had the charisma fitting of a good chat-you-up barman. His wife, who also worked in the resort was the quiet one.

Walking passed a cow grazing on Jude's front lawn, I knocked on the door of Jude's rustic old house. It was plastered with Jesus paintings and crosses. Goa was overwhelmingly Christian, due to the Portugese occupation which ended years back. Even Jude's Enfield Motorcycle had a Jesus sticker across the headlight.

The living room was bare. Nestled into the far corner was his pride and joy, his TV. "TVs were only introduced into Goa in 1982" Jude recalled, telling how all of the kids in the neighborhood would gather in his house to watch TV.

His mother, a proud, aging Goan, walked into the room with a white bandana and a night robe. She didn't speak much english but didn't wait long to almost demand that when I come back, I stay with them. I nodded in compliance.

It was mid afternoon and there were beaches, forts and churches to see. We jumped onto Jude's moto, all 3, and zoomed off. As the day faded away, we visited as many sights as we could see, but mostly, we spent most our time overlooking the sea and sipping drinks at a stall on a high rocky lookout point.

On the ride back, a crowd huddled around a tree buzzed with excitement. We stopped to see what was going on. A snake, high up in a tree had caught a bird. The cute little bird's head stuck out of the snake's hoola-whoop like mouth as he slowly glugged it back. I quickly took out my camera and snapped away, making good use of my long zoom.

A large man standing next to me tapped my shoulder. "Hey if you give me that photo, I'll put it in the newspaper tomorrow.".

"Hmmm... Not sure, bad timing I think, I am off to Mumbai tomorrow. I'll let you know" He gave me his card and walked away.

Jude and Loretta thought it would be best if I stay somewhere other then their cramped house. No matter how much I protested, they demanded that I let them pay for a night at a hotel on the beach. As usual, they weren't taking no for an answer. I accepted and spent the night in a bright, hotel with high ceilings and a balcony next to the beach.

The next day I boarded my last Indian train to Mumbai. This would be my last 2 days in India... and... the last leg of my 5 month stint in Asia.

The rain had finally calmed but the wall of humidity was thick enough to stop a bullet. I sat back in my seat as an Indian man, roughly my age, slumped back in the window seat ahead of me. As he agitated and shifted in his seat I could see that he was desperate to talk to someone. I popped my headphones out and introduced myself. He had been working on a cruise ship in the carribean for several years and was back in Mumbai to see his family for 2 months. After a lengthy conversation, he offered to show me around Mumbai when we finally reached the city.

We arrived in the darkness of the morning, at 6am. With all the hotels closed until the 9am check-in time, I wandered the streets, through the streets lined with sleeping beggars and heroin addicts. Men shooting crack on the sidewalk and touts agressively eager to show me to their hotels of choice which I was forced to physically push away. Mumbai was swarming with locals eager to scam the first tourist in sight. Now having been in India for one and a half months, I wasn't bothered so much by it and almost naturally brushed them aside with my now mastered hand-swat. I had been so used to floating through seemingly constant harassing situations that it all seemed normal now. To kill the 2 hours of dead-time before the sunrise, I sat by the India Gate, a triumphant arch built by the english to frame the sea port in Mumbai, as the sun slowly rose over the sea.

For the following 2 days, I couldn't be bothered to do to much. The thick humidity made it nearly impossible to roll out of bed without breaking a sloppy sweat and the bustling streets of Mumbai just weren't calling me. I mostly passed away time by watching movies in my room and doing some last minute shopping.

I did finally meet up with Alu, for a night of raunchy drinking and dancing which also wasted away my last day as I slept until 6pm at his house recovering from a brutal hangover in his blissfully air conditioned pseudo-mansion.

I finally flew out of Mumbai, elated to be leaving the first part of my 9 month trip to a new foreign land. The middle east. Cracking open my new lonely planet guide for the Middle East, a rush of excitement swooshed over me. New languages, currencies, customs, people, sights and food were making me giddy with excitement. The second I walked into the plane for my flight, the whole of Asia seemed like a far and distant experience which I had been through years back. It all passed by so fast, and now, the final stretch began.

***********************
-- Mid Term Report
***********************

Well, half of my 9 month trip has vanished. Where did the time go. It's shocking when I think of just how much I managed to squeeze into such a short time span. Sri lanka, India (Twice), Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos, Bangkok, Malaysia, Singapore, Nepal, Tibet... wow... I've seen so many awe inspiring sights, lived through a bag load of experiences and met countless friendly people to keep me intrigued for a lifetime... and still another continent to go. Still, I do think it's time for a change. A completely new language, religion and landscape is called for. Not that South East Asia didn't provide it's fair share of variety, it's just that being dropped into completely new surroundings will be a much needed change of gears. Not that I know really what to expect, aside from it being unbearably hot.

So, to do a full mid term report on the passed 4 months would be almost impossible without filling up a whole book. So perhaps quick "final thoughts" and "lasting impressions" is more appropriate.

Lets start from the top.

-- Sri Lanka ... Mmmm... happy thoughts.

...Wonderfully nice people ( Thanks Affan, Uma and Vajira! )

... beaches, beaches and more beaches...

... Astonishing variety. Safaries, mountains ( Sri Pada ), ancient ruins, beaches, to name a few of the sights.

Not so happy thoughts... Hot, humid, muggy, brutal traffic, the LTTE rebels... Ummm, think that's it...

-- India... Hehe... love it or hate it, India. I have to admit having a hard time with India at the start and even after having left... In the north it seemed that nothing was easy, but what a country. The sights, smells and sounds of India are something I'll never forget ( no matter how hard I try to, ha! ). The south, of course, was a completely different India that I had known. In the south people were more friendly, laid back and less out-to-get-you. India is truly a country to be experienced and not told about. To even try to accurately explain how it was would be an attempt in futility. My memories of India will always be happy ones mixed in with frustratingly harsh ones. India is absolutely as different as you can get to the western world.

-- Myanmar... what a country. Wonderfully friendly people. A country where you can leave your wallet on the table and not worry about someone picking it up, unless it were to drop off the table in which case someone would pick it up and give it back to you. Ahhh,.... what a treat. In no other country ( well maybe Singapore ) did I feel so safe. The ancient ruins of Bagan, wonderful lakes and cities make Myanmar a top country for me.

-- Vietnam... A little disappointing, although exotic and dynamic. I did find the people a little money hungry and at times frustrating to deal with but, aside from all of the Vietnam war relics and sights, it did have a certain wonder to it.

-- Laos, what can I say. It's highly regarded by many as the best of Asia .. and for a good reason. The friendly Buddhist people, wonderful stupas and awe inspiring ruins are one of a kind. A must visit.

-- Bangkok... well it's Bangkok. As the transport hub of South East Asia, everyone has to go there to get anywhere in the area. The buzzing, flashy city where anything from a quick date to a fancy meal can be arranged at your local rickshaw driver. It is what it is... always a good time though.

-- Malaysia. Quick impressions: Modern, Big, metallic, Muslim, edgy yet friendly. A nice stop over.

-- Singapore. Expensive... wow-expensive. Clean, industrial, safe ( almost too safe ), small... what more can I say...

-- Nepal. Number 2 on the top of the top list. Exotic, friendly, good weather, nice people. Difficult to visit Nepal only once I think.

-- Tibet. Numero Uno on the list. Fabulous people ( Aside from the rock thrower guy... ), stunning vistas, mind numbing mountains, clean cool air, hot dry sun, ... a must visit.

What a 5 months. The best 5 of my life, without a doubt. Where did the time go, it all passed by so fast. The only nasty part of it all was the gut crushing sicknesses I'd acquired along the way... shall we recap?

-- Eye infection ( Sri Lanka )
-- Larium induced Nightmares (Sri Lanka )
-- Poison Ivy ( Sri Lanka )
-- Nasty 2 week Flu ( India )
-- Diarrhea with a brutal doctor-please-help fever ( India )
-- Atomic diarrhea ( Myanmar )
-- Insane cargo bus induced Motion Sickness ( Myanmar )
-- Crippling Sprained Ankle ( Myanmar )
-- Badly cut, bruised and infected feet ( Myanmar )
-- Gut crunching diarrhea ( Laos )
-- 2nd degree burns ( Laos )
-- Altitude Sickness ( Tibet )
-- Hangover ... yeah, yeah, I know... self induced ( Singapore and India )

.. And now off to Jordan, in good health I might add. Time to brush up on the Arabic and get ready for the yummy Nargila water pipes.
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