India and Imodium

When you tell others that you’re soon to head off to India, one word above all others that pops up is Imodium. This is usually followed by advice on what not to eat. So it looks like we will dodge the dreaded Delhi Belly as long as we avoid meat, vegetables, unpeeled fruit, water, anything that has been near water or has been left out in the rain. And it’s best not to touch anything, to shower with your mouth, ears and nostrils sealed and try not to breathe the air unless it’s absolutely necessary.
But regardless, I simply can’t wait to go. This is the first trip that doesn’t feel like it will be a holiday per se but more of a true adventure bordering on a re-birth, but hopefully not a literal one. Just yet.


We’ve been saying for years that we’d go to India once the kids have grown up and as the youngest is nineteen on the day we return, that time has to be right now.

I was ‘sold’ the idea many years ago when a friend came back from there and was recalling a moment he  had in a cafe in Mumbai, which at the time was still known as Bombay. He said he was sipping his Chai Tea in a crowed and noisy tea room as random cows were aimlessly wandering outside, amongst chaotic, technicolor people and traffic that included every mode of transport including the odd Elephant, whilst a beggar, without arms, was sat doing tricks on a skateboard at the cafe entrance and all the time monkeys were running in and out trying to steal food off the tables!

To see anything remotely like that in England you’d have to brave Stoke on Trent on a Friday night.

Mysore Palace (not Stoke on Trent)
We’re spending a week in Mysore before going where the universe sends us and where that will be we won’t know until the day arrives – which is very exciting and although we are going to Mysore, we’re not going for the yoga, even though the yoga will of course be practiced every day, we’re going there for its gateway into South India. The man at the Indian Visa centre was surprised and pleased that we were not thinking of going to Goa as that destination seems to be frowningly regarded by some as the Kavos/Ibiza of India.

I earlier had email confirmation from our taxi driver who will be taking us from Bangalore airport to Mysore and I smiled to learn the driver’s name is Ganesh. That seems like a good sign.


So we’re packing very light, we have to as we’re carrying it all on our back. In fact the heaviest things I will be carrying are books. I’ve opted not to take the kindle but instead a few paper books and apart from the reading material there will be enough clothes to last only a few days in the rucksack as Mysore allegedly has the very best street markets in India. Besides, any available space will be taken up with Alcohol gel, sun block, Deet, baby wipes, toilet rolls, 42 Ainsley Harriot cup a soups, a canary and enough Imodium to be able to take regular bus trips without embarrassment.

The British Buddhist Holy Isle.

On the 18th April 1992 Buddhist Lama Yeshe Rinpoche bought a whole island off the coast from the Island of Arran which in turn is off the coast of Scotland. It is called Holy Isle and must not be visited, indeed given the widest possible birth, if you can’t cope with peace, beauty, tranquility and serenity.
The island came into Buddhist hands via a devout catholic no less, Mrs Kay Morris, who owned Holy Isle and had been ‘instructed by Mother Mary in a dream’ to pass Holy Isle to Lama Yeshe to be used for peace and meditation. See –  http://www.holyisland.org/

We went there this year as the second part of the annual ‘lads walk’.  We’d spent the first part, a couple of days, walking the wilds of Arran getting sunburned and heat stroke as we’d managed to marry our trip with the hottest weather Scotland has had since Dodo’s were a menace to outdoor chip eaters.

Arrival on Arran


There was only four of us this year and one of us, a freelance writer, was writing an article on our visit for Kindred Spirit magazine. It was the third day of our trip that we caught the small ferry over to this car free paradise. The plus with Holy Isle is that nobody is playing at being Buddhist. There was some disappointment by one of our group as he’d genuinely expected that our boat, on landing, would be met by a line of purple cloaked, bald blokes ringing bells and welcoming us on to their island. I wondered if he also thought they would be saying Aloha and passing garlands of thistles around our necks.
The resident Buddhists are simply average people of all ages who are trying to follow a peaceful existence via the teachings of Buddha. This, in other words, is not a pretentious new age centre.

The main building

The island consists of a main building which houses the dormitories, library, kitchen and dining room. There is no TV room, no amusement arcade or gym because like the world over they’re not really necessary. Behind this there is another building where the courses are held and at the far end of the island, about half a mile away, was a not for visitors retreat centre where twelve women are currently on a three year, three month, three day retreat. They were 18 months in to it at the time of our visit in May 2012.  The disappointed friend drew looks, accompanied by frowning eyebrows, when he inquired if this was voluntary on their part, obviously having decided to himself that we were on some sort of unwelcoming Zen Alcatraz.
In the hillside above the retreat centre there was a couple of eco-lodges for people on a lifetime retreat and once the resident has passed on the lodge also gets passed on to the next person on the waiting list.

The retreat building

The lifetime retreat lodges and the home of Lama Yeshe when he visits.

There is a also a wonderful cafe/shop on the grass beach which caters for visitors and helps fund the island and sells lots of mediation bowls which everyone seemed to try out and I imagine were there as some special meditative training test for the shop assistant.
Above the cafe was a meditation room which I visited at several ungodly hours to spend time, cross legged, cutting off the blood flow to my feet. I didn’t take my reading glasses into these meditations and was put on the spot when given a 2 inch thick set of cards to be able to recite the Chenrezig prayer, which was written in writing so small that I had no choice but to mumble along in a low Buddhisty sounding, throaty tone so as not to be exposed and glared at.

The Holy Isle passenger terminal looking towards Arran


Before meditation one morning as the sun was just up, around 5am as it happens, I decided to practice some yoga outdoors. There was a time when 5am was when I’d think of getting off home from a party and not heading for seclusion to do a yoga practice. I found a lovely spot by the sea edge looking across to Arran. I stripped down to my underpants because 1/ it was already hot and more importantly, 2/ I was alone – and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) and by the time I’d reached my first downward facing dog I realised I was not at all alone. I was joined by an ever expanding cloud of wee midges and these midges were not at all Buddhist and brought on what I can only describe as yoga turrets and a quick desertion of my practice as I ran back to the meditation hall with my new friends in hot, biting pursuit.

In the main building one could help oneself to free teas and coffees 24/7 and the food, three meals a day that are included in your £28 a night stay, was gorgeous vegan fayre. We all occasionally chipped in washing and wiping dishes and very quickly became part of the community  and after only three days it was as if we’d never lived anywhere else.

On Holy Isle, you are not expected to go to meditation or to do anything particularly. You are simply free to be. It is relaxation personified and still quite a secret.

Peaced out. Last night on the island. Arran in the background

On returning to Arran the next day with it’s one bus every two hours, seemed akin to being dropped into Manhattan on Christmas Eve. It took a while for the peace to dissolve back into distraction which suffice to say most of it eventually did – except for a small part that now sits there still – I guess, waiting for me.

There are currently plans to put a power plant on Arran which the Buddhist community fear will spoil the tranquility of Holy Isle causing noise, pollution and smoke.
see – http://tinyurl.com/9a387jd