Yoga Biking

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As I understand things, all spiritual teachings are taught, essentially, to allow one to strive for one thing, stillness of mind.  Yoga Asanas are there, as just one limb of eight, to prepare the body for meditation so that it can sit as still and as comfortably as possible without having ones legs turn blue so to be able to calm the mind, and along with the other seven limbs, to realise that all is just thought from which arise our attachments and aversions and ultimately the universe we individually live in.

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Television and the media has managed to shepherd us all into a similar pattern of thoughts and thinking and so we all seem to kind of agree on a similar ish universe.   Spiritual teachings however can, at least temporarily, have us experiencing other new and enticing universes, be it a Buddhist one or an Islamic one or Sufi, Hindu, Jesuit, Jain, and so on, until we are ready to drop that too and to simply be.  In the meantime whilst we are travelling on our own long yellow brick road to our inner wizard, terrible wars are being fought, insanely, because different collectives of people are holding on tightly, very tightly, to the universe that they think they live in, a universe based in religion, a religion that they insist is the only true one. The truth is that the world is squabbling and killing over who has the best imaginary friend.

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Meditation, I am told, is simply a way to let go, to not hold on to anything.

The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” which is different, well slightly different to self familiarity that happens around puberty. The later more grown up familiarity is encouraged for training the mind to understand states that are rewarding such as concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, awareness and mindfulness.

This doesn’t necessarily have to be done sat in lotus imitating Buddha or Ramakrishna.  It is accepted nowadays that posture is not really that important. Buddha could just as well have sat on a chair and got boomshanka’d but, like most yogis of the day,  he was a wandering sadhu and chairs were not lying around in fields and under enlightening trees. Sitting in lotus is another case of us human types imitating. We no longer dress up as Batman or play air guitar – well not in public at least – but if Buddha got through by sitting cross legged then we seem to think that’s the way for us all, but where does this end?

If Christ had been hung from a gallows, rather than crucified on a cross, Christians would today undoubtedly be wearing nooses around their necks, albeit small ones on a pretty chain – but I digress.  So it’s surely not really about posture,  you can do walking meditation, standing meditation, kneeling meditation –  it’s about stillness  – specifically stillness of mind and recently I discovered a forced yoga if you will, about 3 minutes after driving off on a recently required, not been on one for 28 years, motorbike.

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Materially, It’s a great bike, the result, some say, well a lot say to be honest, of a ‘mid life crisis’ though I simply fail to see where there is any crisis happening, I’m having a great time – It does just under 80 to the gallon and it will hit 110 mph (apparently) with road tax at only £37 per year. So, by comparison to cars, it’s very ecological and economical and shockingly, to me, extremely meditative. (oh yeah and a lotta lotta fun)

From moving off you are forced into
1/ letting go of any fear immediately and
2/ having an instant and perpetual lesson in both awareness and mindfulness – and you can’t do any of these if you are not totally focused and full to the brim of concentration.

The roads are clogged nowadays more than ever and the Highways Department consider two-wheel riders approximately not at all. The manhole covers are very rarely level with the road surface, any utility works undertaken are then resurfaced by what can only be the local playgroup. Farmers, bless them, do try to help by adding a layer of mud wherever possible and councils love to decorate them with rumble strips and speed humps.  This is before you encounter any other actual road users , so from the off you are ‘in the zone’ and to understand or at least second guess other drivers you must have a full tankard of both empathy, and to discourage you from giving the finger, compassion.

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one must stay alert at all times

Distraction is limited, unlike being in a cocoon vehicle because it’s very difficult and extremely messy to eat or drink on a bike and you simply cannot hear a word on the mobile phone and texting is particularly trying and turning around to see what the kids are doing would be very illegal. You are simply there. On the bike, there is, no mortgage, no debt, not even a family,  just you and the space around you most commonly referred to as ‘the moment’ though you can never know that you’re in the moment because you’re in it.  I concur with film star and Ducati rider Ryan Reynolds who recently said, “I love the fact that on a motorcycle, riding is the only thing you’re doing”.  Although I’d add saying ‘yippee’ in quite a high voice within the confines of the helmet.
I imagine  surfers have the same feeling of oneness and yippee, except the only obstacles they have to look out for are passing turds. The organisation ‘Surfers Against Sewage’ isn’t in existence for nothing dude.

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And to yoga class – it’s the only way to travel.

And all the time the wheels are moving, you are naggingly, very wide awake aware of the biggest one of all – impermanence but all the time holding an inner smile and something that might be called loveOr maybe delusion

Mysore – The Guide

There is a lot more to the Indian city of Mysore than most people realise including the western yogis. It is the perfect city to head to for the India virgin. Not too large, it has all the elements of India, is low on hassle and scams and has an air of chill out about it. You do not have to be on a yoga course to go but the vast majority of westerners that do so are there only for that purpose,  and you will soon discover that there are not too many other westerners around outside of the main yoga suburb of Gokalum meaning that it’s a city for the residents and not necessarily for tourists per se, so you get to experience a slice of real India – and it’s perfect for a 4 day/5 night stop.

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The nearest international airport you could fly into is Bangalore and I’d recommend having a pre-booked taxi driver standing, holding up a sign with your name on it as you exit the airport with your baggage who will take you straight to Mysore – a 4 hour trip, that for the uninitiated is like a full on acid trip, but with no comedown (possibly ever) and that for only £28 which is a much more desirable alternative than a 3 hour trip into Bangalore itself where you will likely pay at least that much for a room – see
https://kevollier.com/2012/12/02/helloindia/

Mysore Palace

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Beautiful and opulent and yet I couldn’t help thinking that the Maharini who had it built was more than a little egotistical but simultaneously on a guilt trip. In the main overlook hall he’d hanged huge paintings of various deities along the back wall with one of himself as the centre-piece. It was a shoes off affair to walk around as it is also with the temples in India and that in itself was quite freeing and they did have the shoe organisation off to a tee rivaling even those of 10 pin bowling alleys back in blighty
When we exited back out into the gardens we spotted some elephants with handlers in an off-piste bit of the grounds in the distance and so went to inspect as these were the first elephants we’d seen so far on this trip and seeing our curiosity the handlers surreptitiously beckoned us over and insisted we stroke their trunks, sit on them without any form of saddle as they had them gallop and kneel, be a bit scared and then pay them a weeks wage to be able to get back into the public, elephantless area.

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Each week on a Sunday evening and every evening during the Dasara festival the palace and all the buildings are illuminated in an instant and it is definitely a Mysore highlight so unless you’re there for Dasara it would be prudent to factor in a Sunday evening if possible.

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The Silk Factory

Grab a tuk tuk and head over to the silk factory. Where you will see the most beautiful sari’s made from scratch – from silkworms in situ, through to the added gold thread, which the workers encourage you to feel and touch as it whizzes through their looms and you weave between the huge machines listening to their directions so as not to decapitate oneself on the virtually invisible and very taut silk thread that connects the who place like a spiders web  ( they’re not big on health and safety) to the finished product. Nothing is hidden here, it’s not a sweat shop, but immaculately clean and tidy and the workers loved you being there and taking an interest in their work..

From here it’s only a 5 minute tuk tuk to the Sandalwood Factory which couldn’t be so different. It’s as if the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been turned into a sultry, jungle of incense stick and oil making workshops with the Sandalwood pervading the air at every breath. It was quintessentially Indian and here the workers were extremely chilled out and a tad nonchalant having not much work because, we were told, there is a serious shortage of sandalwood trees on Earth and hence it is becoming increasingly expensive.

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Before reading further, please bear with me – because also, not too far away from both the Silk and Sandalwood factories, is the Mysore Railway Museum which we managed to get around rather quickly and I think it’s really for rail enthusiasts that are really, really, very, very enthusiastic. We didn’t see anyone wearing an anorak but then it was a warm day, but for the sake of my train spotter friend (be honest, we all have at least one) – here is the entire list of what’s on display. (Feel free to scroll down to the next block letters)

ES 506 4-6-2 is the first locomotive at the entrance. An Austin rail-motor car. Several inspection cars, one inspection car is used as a ticket office. Two royal coaches that belonged to the Maharaja of Mysore. The Maharini Saloon carriage that has a kitchen, dining car unit and royal toilet dating back to 1899.yawn. A W.G Bagnall #1625 which was made in 1900 for Khushalgarh – Kohat – Thal Railway which was a military frontier line, was subsequently transferred to North Western Railways. It operated at Timber Depot in Marala and was transferred later to Dhilwan Creosoting plant. This 2′-6″ gauge locomotive is configured as 2-4-2ST. Class E #37244 4-4-4T from SIR built by North British Locomotive Co. in 1920. Originally # 8, it was one of the three superheated locomotives. Class TS/1 #37338 2-6-2T from made by W.G. Bagnall in 1932 for Mysore State Railways. A YP #2511 made by Telco in 1963.

DevaRaja Market

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We loved it here. It’s everything you expect India to be. It’s hot, colourful, stinky, hassly, smiley, cheap and full of thousands of market sales people who I can only assume are permanently on a task for The Apprentice. This is where you will learn a few new skills. One is being able to ignore everything and everyone as if you were walking alone on a barren and deserted salt lake. But before you learn this you have to learn firstly never to look, stop and especially touch any item on any stall ever because this essentially means you will buy it even if it’s only as a pay off.

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After this you go through learning a bit of quid pro quo banter, before learning really and truly how to say NO before then reaching the salt lake stage and lastly the next time you’re in the vicinity, you learn to avoid the market.

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But if you love all of that then this is India’s very best market apparently. And to be honest we went there every day. It was trippy and life affirming. We bought about 200 incense sticks for no more than 50p and a brass inlaid wooden incense box for £1.

Green Hotel and the Malgudi Cafe
This was our Mysorean sanctuary. We didn’t stay here but we did visit several time to eat the glorious food and drink the greatest coffee in its renowned and controversial cafe – a cafe that once made the world’s press as the cafe is staffed by ‘untouchables’ – see http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2009/apr/06/dalit-girls-waitress-caste-taboo

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Employing these ‘untouchables’  is still frowned upon to this day but the ones serving and cooking in that cafe have the warmest and loveliest smiles you may ever see. And the hotel it belongs to has been set up as a model of sustainable tourism and ALL of its profits go to charitable and environmental project in India.

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Chamundi Hills
We took a bus to the top of the main hill where the astonishing Chamundeshwari Temple is situated at 3489 feet. We wandered around choosing not to join the thongs queuing to go into the temple. We had been in a few that week already and you simply don’t have enough years in your life to go into every Indian temple. We then walked down back to Mysore, down 1000 steps built by Dodda Devaraja Wodeyar in 1659 who at the same time, at 300 steps down, also built a huge Nandi, Lord Shiva’s Bull.
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This Nandi is one of the largest in India standing 16 ft. (4.8 meters) tall at the head and 25 ft. (7.5 meters) in length and it’s one of the largest carvings from a single piece of rock, granite no less.

On our journey down these teenagers stole my shades but taking their photo got them returnedAlong, with I think I recall, a few rupees.

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This is a great walk down and when nearing the foot of the hill you pass through a village where the children are not part of any begging ring but just want to crowd you and speak to you and laugh with you and point out the numerous monkeys that had now gathered all around us in a very Hitchcockian manner.

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And in Gandhi Square in Mysore centre there is a golden Gandhi
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Glastonbury 2013 – the shop fronts

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Most years, at the end of June, 200,000 people are steered to pass by or/and encouraged not to go into the town of Glastonbury (logistics I assume) to instead  revel at the makeshift Glastonbury Festival, which, in reality, is 7 miles away from the town. In fact the festival is only 3 miles from the larger town of Shepton Mallet,  but a very clever someone, sometime, somewhere decided that ‘Shepton Mallet Festival’ simply wouldn’t have the same mystical ring to it and therefore wouldn’t be anywhere near as marketable – so Glastonbury Festival it became.
If you visit the town during what is said to be the world’s largest festival of performing arts, you would find it at its quietest.
Glastonbury the town is celebrated for many things – the legends surrounding the mystical Tor, the belief that the cup of the last supper also known as ‘the holy grail’  by Arthurians is buried at chalice Well and that King Arthur and his bride Guinevere are buried in the ruined Abbey – indeed Glastonbury is the Ancient Isle of Avalon -but in the end a town is judged primarily and possibly quite sadly by its shops,  and millions of people over the decades truly miss the Diagon alleyesque of the town itself – something the Tourist Board has seemingly and quite ignorantly never fathomed – so without further ado I attach a portfolio of some, but by no means all, of the shop fronts and maybe the red pill that awaits you.
Most speak for themselves of what’s inside…
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Natural Earthling is mostly a yoga shop

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Nicholas Cage, who has a home in Glastonbury, is a regular visitor to Little Imps but is yet to buy the phenomenal wooden castle in the window.

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the former Woolworth building put to a very non-paraben use!

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and if you have a shop front in mind – buildings for sale can be had at

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not a shop front per se, but great art on a Glastonbury mall/arcade wall.

So don’t pass by, spend a weekend in Glastonbury proper. There are many more shops than those posted here but very few ‘normal’ ones, I’m happy to say 🙂

see also ‘Drugs on the West Highland Way’
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/21/west-highland-way/

and the first post of 25 about the author’s experience in North India on the ‘spiritual trip’
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/12/north-india-in-23-days-day-1-glastonbury-to-delhi/

plus much more at
https://kevollier.com/

Yoga mat death?

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Yogi David Williams once referred to fellow yogi and teacher Brian Cooper as “the real thing. If you get a chance to study with this man do it!”.

I have studied with him on three occasions so far, all in Glastonbury UK, and I can thoroughly recommend that anyone on the path of yoga takes one of his workshops. He is seen by some as a bit of a maverick in the yoga world as he doesn’t tow the yoga industry, fashionista line with all the distracting extras that have grown up around the yoga sensation. He is very refreshing, down to earth and funny. As an example, at a recent workshop in Glastonbury, one woman asked him ‘what is the good of getting your leg behind your head?’  His answer was ‘what is the good of any posture?’  And he wasn’t being flippant.

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Halfway through the workshop he told us all to roll up our mats and that we simply do not need a yoga mat and that in fact they do more harm than good as the yoga mat can hinder getting into the correct posture, particularly in standing poses as being on the mat stretches only one half of the muscles and the other half that, for example, need to be pulled inwards need a hard floor to work properly. He added that over many years one could have half a body with strong and stretched muscles and the other half mostly unused which would surely cause problem or injury in the long-term.  He agreed with a question that sure, have a blanket or cover for seated postures and for dirty floors but the yoga mat is unnecessary.  He is currently writing an article on the yoga mat which I think the yoga world will meet with great interest and the mat producers with some trepidation.

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I was nodding in agreement as the mat thing has always bugged me slightly as they were not a part of the original practice. They are a western addition or even invention to some degree. It could be said that hey have become somewhat of an antithesis of yoga – an attachment and they separate each yogi from each other.  They are like being in a car or a lifeboat , a sort of lycra or rubber based cocoon, a sock. Indeed when the mats were gone, we were suddenly all one, all in the same boat and barefooted. Individual space was destroyed and the yoga became a little bit more real – is the only way I can put it.

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the future? God help us

Originally, ancient yoga was practised on kusha grass – which is said to also be the material that Buddha was sat on as his mediation seat when he gained enlightenment – but mostly yoga was simply practised on hard earth with no barrier between oneself and the planet. When yoga came to the west thousands of years later practitioners decided to use a towel or a cotton mat over the wooden floors. This evolved to rubber to stop those mats slipping on the wooden floors and that further developed, as recent as 1982, to carpet underlay cut to a towel size – and so was born the ‘sticky mat’.

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Choice is being slowly taken away now as some insurance companies require yoga practice to be executed with a non-slip mat in order to be eligible for coverage.

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Apart from some form of mat being useful for sitting postures,  they would still be preferable for filthy floors such as some Indian shalas but it’s getting to the point where Yogi’s are even taking their yoga mats on to grass and beaches!

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It is definitely worth trying or if you are a teacher maybe advertising an occasional ‘matless class’ or call it ‘Indoor Wild Yoga’ just to see the difference it makes – which I can vouch, is quite huge.  I think there’s a niche – best not tell anybody :0

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Brian will be in Glastonbury in October 14 – limited places, see https://www.facebook.com/AshtangaYogaGlastonbury

Brian Cooper http://www.briancooper.eu/ teaches directly from his personal experience and studies.  He is founder and director of Union Yoga Training, approved by Yoga Alliance UK, which is dedicated to setting and maintaining high standards of teaching yoga in Britain and Europe.

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For more information on Brian’s Yoga Alliance teacher training courses. Brian has dedicated much time to teaching the benefits of Thai Massage for teachers and students of yoga. These interests have resulted in his new book The Art of Adjusting’ written specifically for yoga teachers.Brian has also co-founded Harmony Publishingwhich publishes out of print yoga classics.He is the Honorary Secretary for Scotland for the International Yoga Federation, an Honorary Member of the World Yoga Council, a member of the Advisory Board for the World Yoga Council, and on the Advisory Board of Yoga Alliance UK.

The Human Test

The UK has on its streets, in every town and city, Big Issue sellers. The Big Issue offers people who are homeless the opportunity to earn their own money; a livelihood.  The Big Issue Foundation offers vendors the opportunity of a life. They work tirelessly alongside the vendors to help them deal with the issues that have caused their homelessness or have developed as a result of hitting the streets.

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The way we can experience the feeling of shame (if buying clothes from Primark hasn’t ignited a conscience) is to realise that those people selling that Big Issue, as mentioned in another post, could very, very easily be your mum, dad, brother, sister, son, daughter, grandchild or of course even you – and the way the world is going currently, that is a possibility. Knowing that and then walking past a seller should, if of course you are human ignite that spark of shame and prove you are not an alien. What reasons do people possibly delude themselves with to justify walking past?

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“Never look down on someone unless you are helping them up. As you go about your daily life please do stop and say hello to a vendor, buy a magazine” ~The Big Issue Foundation.  – besides, it’s a bloody good *weekly* read!

Margaret Thatcher – teacher of Compassion

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Margaret Thatcher is dead.

The resulting vitriol that has welcomed and celebrated her death is jaw dropping, and even for me, unexpected. The ‘Ding dong, the witch is dead’ song from the Wizard of Oz is at number three in the UK music charts and there are parties, and some say riots, planned for this Wednesday when the biggest funeral in UK history takes place. Even Princess Di didn’t get such state attention but Princess Di was loved by most unlike Thatcher who has been called the ‘marmite politician’ by a member of the church but like Diana she has also left behind children. Children that are having to witness the hatred directed towards their mum from what seems like half of England and most of Wales and Scotland.

I wasn’t a fan, I never voted for her but that’s the point –  the people of the UK did vote for her, in our established democracy, and three times! She wasn’t a dictator, she was elected and probably by one or two members of each family burning her effigy. So why are the people of the UK now in such a hateful frame of mind directed at a dead woman who their fellow country folk voted for on three occasions?  Apart from how she was at the forefront of policies, supported by parliament mind, I think there was lot of people who just couldn’t stand the pursed lips, the terrible hair and the fact that she reminded just about everybody of their mother-in-law.

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One of the best life lessons I’ve ever been given was, whenever possible,  to see every person, depending on their age and sex, as if they are your mum or your dad or brother, sister, son or daughter or grandkids or maybe the weird uncle or the batty aunt or your best mate. If people, when walking past a Big Issue seller spared this thought – that the person stood there in all weathers, could easily be, with a change of circumstances, one of your relatives – it could of course even be you (and it’s only conceited thinking that banishes that possibility – especially as our economies teeter) then maybe not so many would walk past that Big Issue seller.

The same goes for Thatcher. She may once have been a leader with an iron will that the rich applauded and the workers threw eggs at but for a vast amount of years she’s been an old lady, a grandma who became frail and died. It was someone’s mum. One didn’t have to like her but to dance in the streets? Even Bin Laden wasn’t given so much attention.

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Surely we need to understand, and with teeth gritted if need be, to be able at least to attempt to practice compassion and it seems to me that the British public have never been give such a national opportunity to do both.

Compassion is our friend.

The opposite of compassion is cruelty and to a lesser degree, pity. Pity being when we’re sorry for someone whereas compassion is to be sorry with someone. It’s feeling the suffering as if you are that person. Of course I’m not  referring to Thatcher herself as she’s gone but I am referring to those she left behind – her children and grandchildren.

We can, albeit at the risk of heart wrenching brevity, become the grandchild who has not only lost it’s grandma but then witnesses the folk of this country that she governed morphing into over-sized munchkins, spitting malevolence as if that’s to be applauded and respected, although possibly feared and therefore ignored.

To be able to shape shift into each mind and body of those affected in a quantum leap sort of way will likely and involuntarily ignite our compassion immediately and if it doesn’t at least you’ll be blessed with the shocking knowledge, if you say that Thatcher had no compassion herself, of what that feels like.

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Five Lads on the Isle of Arran

The day before ‘the lads’ went over to the Buddhist car free Holy Isle for a few days of reflection – (as previously blogged at https://kevollier.com/2012/10/06/buddhists-peace-and-yoga-turrets/ ) we partook in our annual get together hike – something we’ve been doing now for twenty years and this year and on that day we all hiked through the mountains of Arran and it was on a day that was the hottest Scotland had witnessed since the days of William Wallace.  Something that should have taken reasonable preparation but unfortunately the only preparation had been arriving off the Ardrossan to Brodick ferry the day earlier and hiking off the jetty the full 100 metres to The Douglas beer garden.

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just off the ferry, Goat Fell ahead – the Douglas left

The sun had literally come out, (for the first time in 83 years on Arran if a later hired taxi driver was to be believed), as soon as the ferry docked.
And there is no better combination than four men (free of all the shackles of modern life for five days) the sun and amazing scenery for one to be drawn to a nearby, and quite frankly, begging, beer garden.

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It was some pints and a couple of ferry arrivals later that we were joined for a few hours by an old friend from Glastonbury who had since moved back to his native Glasgow.  So we now had a Scotsman and his bagpipes.  At some point we remembered that the next day we were supposed to climb Goat Fell, Arran’s highest peak, and we vaguely agreed on a route that we might take.  We drank up, eventually, and wandered over to the beach to be treated to some bagpiping.  This I remember.  We all felt very Scottish watching a piper pipe away the ferry back to Ardrossan and we all agreed that Mel Gibson was indeed correct to sack Carlisle and we then all imagined what it must have been like to have marched with Wallace that amazing distance from the Highlands to Carlisle and with no shops on the way and all the time wearing an itchy skirt and no underpants, walking through waist-high thistles in the most midge infested landscape on Earth.  No wonder they were annoyed.

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And then someone went to the off licence and introduced us to a Scottish delicacy that ironically is brewed in Devon known as Buckfast Tonic Wine (Toxic more like)  and that is approximately where I lost my memory until the next morning.

Bagpiper Craig got the last ferry to the mainland, I wore a hat for the rest of the evening and then went missing at midnight but where to I have no recollection but I did find the hotel – the Ormidale, in a copse and managed to awake hotel staff at 4am enquiring where my room might be and was subsequently helped into bed.

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Me – apparently – totally hatted

I was enlightened with this information at the breakfast table by staff who were so nonchalant about it, that it seemed as if someone does this sort of thing quite regularly and possibly on a nightly basis.

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The Ormidale

I managed to eat a full Scottish breakfast and get 200 metres into the hike before the hangover kicked in. It was 80 plus degrees and not even a whimsy of a breeze was to be had as we started the slow climb through the beauty that is Glen Rosa. We all had a bottle of water each which we sipped at, as it quickly became evident that one small bottle of water wouldn’t be enough. It is here that you have to understand that we are not advisors to Ray Mears or Bear Grylls though I’m sure we have a much better time and don’t have to wear make up  (It’s still a choice). It was quite a busy path as we mingled with day trippers from the ferry as well as local teenage lads, who were heading for a natural rock plunge pool. Something I imagine that only happens on very hot sunny days – so that would be once in a lifetime.

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into Glen Rosa

One of our party is terrified of heights and another was already out of water. A debate ensued, considering the temperature, about whether to go up Goat Fell, turn back or take another route. The one terrified of heights wasn’t intending to ever go up it, ‘if it looked steep’ and the one without the water was determined to.  Neil and I were not bothered either way but certainly wouldn’t be turning back so we strolled onwards and upwards towards’ The Saddle’ where we would decide a definite plan of action.

The going did get a bit tough as it was so hot and I’d perspired the last drop of Buckfast and was now seriously in need of water. We’d followed a stream all the way up the Glen and we decided we were now high enough to drink straight from the stream. Refreshed by Gaia we continued on and the path veered away from the stream for the first time that day and we suddenly realised that we now had this amazing valley to ourselves. Soon though Robin fell ill with what we expected was heat exhaustion and I was asked to get water for him but as the path had now veered about 100 metres from the river it meant I had to traipse through waist-high thistles in shorts disturbing plagues of sleeping, dusk awaiting midges and then scramble down a gorse cliff, over rocks and hang on by one arm whilst plunging the other into a mini waterfall and then having to make the return journey whereupon I disturbed more midges or maybe the same ones only now  more aggravated at a double intrusion. On my bedraggled and sweaty reunion with the lads Robin said he would have to go back to which I said something on the lines of, ‘I don’t bloody think so’. We had no mobile reception so we couldn’t call a helicopter rescue and we were alone but only a couple of hundred metres from the Saddle which was the half way point and for all we know there might actually be a tree over the other side that could afford us some shade as there were none the way we’d come.

We were climbing the last steep bit when some walkers appeared coming our way from over the Saddle. I smiled at this. There were two couples who on traversing the peak came upon us, me topless, legs torn by thistles with my shirt over my head (think Lawrence of Arabia), with a guy who looked as if he’d barely survived a Cessna plane crash in a desert with only mirages for comfort to be confronted by Phil concerned at how steep the other side was. One of the women didn’t help one iota when she said, ‘that’s so dangerous, be careful, you might die’ which was rubber stamped by her friend. I actually saw Phil turn grey.

The Saddle however was worth it. The views were immense and the wind that hit over the top was so cooling.

Robin Whitlock The Saddle to Glen Rosa Arran

Looking past Robin back to Glen Rosa from The Saddle

Kev Ollier The Saddle to Glen Sannox

and looking down into the future, Glen Sannox

We took rest and convinced Phil to keep going. I volunteered to go first so if he fell I’d break his fall.
And it was steep. It wasn’t even a footpath but a scramble. It says so on the map apparently and it’s one of the most notorious on Arran but it actually did get the adrenalin going as we had no ropes and it was indeed touch and go dangerous – the one slip and you’re dead dangerous – not even a halfway house of an injury – just dead, ex-parrot death.

Kev Ollier Scramble Glen Sannox

The scramble…

Glen Sannox

…and breathe

Suffice to say we got down, we walked the few more miles to Sannox and stopped at the hotel on the beach for an Arran single malt – to celebrate being alive and a large glass of iced sparkling water – bliss. We caught the next packed bus (they’re not often) back the 7 miles or so to Brodick to discover that I’d left my phone on the Sannox hotel lawn and there are no more buses today. Hence where the taxi driver came in….

Kino MacGregor – Bad Girl Yogi

It had to happen and it has. The holier than thou brigade have fired their angry arrows at the rising star of Ashtanga Yoga, Kino Macgregor, and they’ve thrown these white hot coals because Kino, in their opinion, is not adhering to the yoga philosophy laid down thousands of years ago and that’s the point, it was laid down thousands of years ago.

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The current Ashtanga yogi’s take their philosophy and teachings mostly from those of Krishna Pattabi Jois who himself was the ‘student’, as it’s commonly known nowadays  though it may have been known as ‘disciple’ at the time, of Krishnamacharya who preached that one should make yoga propaganda and to get the message out there. I support that one.

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Krishnamacharya in a thong

From my own experience the world would be a totally different place if everyone practiced yoga. I think it should be taught in schools as part of Physical Education and also as part of Religious Education as yoga crosses both boundaries. One only has to pick up an Ashtanga yoga book to know that there are eight limbs of which the asana’s (physical postures) are only one. The eight limbs are very similar to the Buddhist eightfold path and also to the Ten Commandments though in Yoga, which is, or at least originally was (he says controversially), a hindu philosophy there is no commanding going on which is also the case with the Buddhist eightfold path – there is no reward and no punishment for following or for not following except that from and for your own self.

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Yoga in schools has already courted controversy as it’s ‘not Christian’, which is like most people then in the west, because for most people who say they are Christian, it’s just a convenience so they know what to put in that blank box on passport and census applications.

Kino has been pointed at for her style of yoga clothes – talk about attachment and aversion! It gets hot in an ashtanga  yoga class and I wear as little as I can get away with (vest and shorts and when it gets really sweaty the shorts get rolled up as high as is possible to go). In the warmer parts men mostly just wear shorts and in some cases, I will sit down before I say the next word – speedos ! – and women wear bikinis, but so what? If people are getting distracted by this or fearing that a bout of lust might come upon them, then that, at least, shows them where they’re stuck. This clothes fascism is akin in some ways to the Catholic Church not allowing female priests, cardinals or popes although I think the only reason for that is because the celibate men have all the frocks.

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Kino is trying to get yoga on to TV.  This has amazingly upset the upper brethren of Mysore yogis. What seems to be the yoga moan lately is whether yoga should or shouldn’t be an Olympic event or whether yoga should become prime time TV. The argument mostly being that the Asanas, what most of the world think is yoga, is not the whole yoga. My personal opinion on this is that when people come to yoga for whatever reason, they are all the better for it and some, probably quite a high percentage, eventually dig deeper and begin to want to breathe properly, try to then maybe regularly practice meditation which leads on to greater empathy and compassion and kindness and bigger eyes to see the world with.

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If the population would frown at yoga on TV, yet sit glued to Strictly Come Dancing or the greatest karaoke show on Earth (X Factor) or watch endless programmes about chefs who cook with varying degrees of alcoholism and bad language, then abandon hope all ye who enter etc.  Yoga will be on television, this much is for sure and there are many great teachers out there who will embrace the medium and hopefully for the right reasons and Kino should be right up there and lead from the front.

Like it or not, according to Bloomberg, ‘Yoga is the fastest growing industry on Earth’ (and without any TV!). Bill Harper of Yoga Journal announced, ‘it’s not just an activity, it’s a lifestyle’. Are these facts a bad thing? Maybe only to the brethren of the mountain ‘Holier’ which is quite a bit higher up the valley than ‘thou
Kev Ollier at Kino Macgregor workshop London

My naked half leg (bottom right hand corner) at the end of a Kino workshop in London, England

Everyone has their own path to their own G-D and that’s as it should be and whether the path is pathless or not is irrelevant.

see also, ‘Kino MacGregor, London’ at
https://kevollier.com/2012/09/30/kinomacgregor/

and
‘Yoga Mat Death’ at
https://kevollier.com/2013/05/30/yogamat/

and
‘Kino DVD review’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/01/05/kino-macgregor-primary-series-dvd-review/

Kino’s ‘how to’ videos are here
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LwSX7NnE-uU&playnext=1&list=PLBAA695702548F199&feature=results_main

The article this post addresses by Kino is at
http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/02/confessions-of-a-loved-hated-ashtangi-kino-macgregor/

Gunfight at the Florida Mall

There are times when taking a photo could get you killed and had I found my camera that day, it’s likely you wouldn’t be reading this because I wouldn’t be here to write it.

It has been said in a previous blog that as a family, when on holiday, we’d managed to obtain the nickname ‘the Griswolds’ because we had Griswold vacation type things happen to us and this is one such happening. We’d spent a week in Florida. It was our eighth visit to the US and the fourth visit to this state yet it had been 8 years since the last time. The first visit was in 1989 when Emma was a toddler and in subsequent trips we’d taken tents, our next child, James, and having two kids meant budgeting so we camped in the wilderness parks, canoe’d lonely and alligator infested creeks and out run rednecks (see –  https://kevollier.com/2012/08/15/india-the-next-adventure-is-on/ ).

Emma left home, due to her age, not to our griswoldian near death experiences, and James was all grown up, and it just worked out that we could have one last trip as a family before the additions of spouses and grand-children and so we thought let’s go back to Florida and do adult things rather than queue at theme parks for a week, so we hired a house on an average Orlando estate.

The house was a smidge smaller than Longleat and had its own indoor-ish pool and a walk in fridge with a full-sized billiards table in the soda section. The en-suite bathroom in the fourth bedroom was slightly larger than our entire England home and garden. The garage, or should I say hanger, could have held concerts. You had to get a cab to the mailbox. I assumed that every house has a huge ‘H” painted on its roof – and this is where the working classes live.

Kev Ollier's 66 Ford Mustang

The Mustang of my youth!

At Orlando airport arrivals I accepted that ‘when in Rome do what the Romans do’ and so quickly became a climate change denier and upgraded our hire car from the average Mondeo sized model to a brand new Dodge Charger, and for only an extra $20 a day. It would have been a crime not to. I once owned a 66 Mustang and once you’ve felt the throb of a V8 under your buttocks, it’s difficult to resist another. A washing machine on full spin just doesn’t cut it.  So we throbbed around Florida. We went over to Tampa and then down to Miami and Miami beach for a few days, taking in the Everglades and one of those air boat rides where the noise travelled through my ears and made my inner nostrils vibrate for a week afterwards. I’m just thankful I wore ear plugs. We did Planet Hollywood and movies and bars and beaches and shops and restaurants and lots of Denny’s and basically had a wonderful time with nothing even close to a griswold moment.

My beautiful picture

The Dodge Charger

And then the final day arrived and I succumbed to pressure and said , ‘ok, we’ll go to the Florida Mall’. The thing with a mall in the US is that if you’ve been to Cribbs Causeway or to the Arndale or Meadowbank etc, then you’ve been to a mall. You could be anywhere with the possible exception that everyone in America seems to wear white training shoes. We even played a game of only staring at passing feet to see if we could spot anything different and we did come across two people wearing scuffed but none white trainers and another two wearing flip-flops who all happened to be English, another guy wearing sandals with socks (??) who was German and one bare footed guy selling a Bhagavad Gita but everyone else had the Stepford standard issue.

On the way into the mall, I spotted a bookshop and promised myself to drop in on our way out – which was about two hours later.

The four of us all smoked at that time and the three others needed their fix and so they wandered off to the outside and to the car to roll a cigarette whilst I promised to join them after a browse amongst the books. It being a mall meant the bookshop was of the WH Smith type and after about ten minutes I was done – and putting my hands in my pocket discovered the car keys and decided I ought to get a move on. My son met me asking me to hurry up as I hadn’t given them the keys and they ‘were stood about like lemons’.  As we exited, we heard various sirens and I commented that although inside the mall you could have been anywhere, outside it was the sound of America. I opened the car, jumped in, rolled my own ciggie and put it in my mouth about to light it when a siren wailed right behind the car and a voice in a megaphone shouted, ‘put your hands up’.

The first thing I did was dive into the foot well to search for my camera as I wanted a real life hold up on film but I couldn’t find it and the police guy was insisting that the people he was shouting at put their hands up. When I turned to see where the action was, I quickly noticed that my wife, who was sat in the passenger seat, had her hands up to the car roof and behind her a cop stood, resting on the roof of the adjacent car, aiming a gun straight at her head. I looked into the back and couldn’t help notice that both the kids had their hands up too and they also had their very own policeman with a gun pointing at them through the back window. I was then startled when a loud voice to my left told me, in no uncertain terms, to ‘GET YOUR HANDS UP’ and as I looked  through my open window and was met, only eighteen inches from my face and pointing at my forehead, by a barrel of a gun with a copper firmly attached. My instinctual response was ‘are you serious?’ A fourth cop was talking into a radio, my cop reached in and took the roll up from my mouth and asked me what was in it, another asked if we were English and then suddenly it was all loudly called off and guns were raised skywards in synchronicity and apologies reined down upon us. I was just starting to get what had  happened. Emma shouted, ‘I don’t appreciate having a gun in my face thank you very much’ and I told her to shut up. But we wanted an explanation all the same.

My cop smiled and said, ‘you were smoking in a rental’ and followed that with, ‘I’m just kidding’.  Oh, how I laughed.  Another explained that the mall CCTV spotted ‘suspicious behaviour’ around the car, and it was assumed that we were either terrorists or trying to steal the best car in the car park. Further symbiotic investigation  revealed that when the other three had gone back to the car and then realised that they hadn’t got the keys, they tried each door and the boot (trunk) for entry but to no avail, then when they’d rolled their ciggies, the kids had a sibling quarrel and the lighter was dropped and skidded under the car where they both tried to retrieve it.  James then ran to he mall to meet me and we both alighted from the building heading back to the car. None of this surprised me. It all seemed very inevitable and all I could say to the withdrawing, ‘you have a nice day now’ police officers was, ‘well, you certainly don’t get this at Tesco’

Valentine message from the Buddha

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥
The Discourse on Loving Kindness.
What should be done by one who’s skilled in wholesomeness
To gain the state of peacefulness is this:
One must be able, upright, straight and not proud,
Easy to speak to, mild and well content,
Easily satisfied and not caught up
In too much bustle, and frugal in one’s ways,
 With senses calmed, intelligent, not bold,
Not being covetous when with other folk,
Abstaining from the ways that wise ones blame,
And this the thought that one should always hold:
“May beings all live happily and safely
And may their hearts rejoice with themselves.
Whatever there may be with breath of life,
Whether they be frail or very strong,
Without exception, be they long or short
Or middle-sized, or be they big or small
Or thick, or visible, or invisible,
Or whether they dwell far or they dwell near,
Those that are here, those seeking to exist–
May beings all rejoice within themselves.
Let no one bring about another’s ruin
And not despise in any way or place,
Let them not wish each other any ill
From provocation or enmity.”
Just as a mother at the risk of life
Loves and protects her child, her only child,
So one should cultivate this boundless love
To all that live in the whole universe
Extending from a consciousness sublime
Upward and downward across the world
Untroubled, free from hate and enmity,
And while one stands and while one walks and sits
Or one lies down still free from drowsiness
One should be intent on this mindfulness–
This is divine abiding here they say.
But when one lives quite free from any view,
And greed for sensual desires expelled,
One surely comes no more to any womb.
The Buddhas’s words
Sutta Nipata

Visiting India? You might not come back…

well I haven’t! –  although my body is definitely in the UK, It seems I left something of me in India and possibly the best bit and for my sanity I’m going to have to go back and retrieve it or just go back .

It’s a cliché I heard so often, before what was our first ever sojourn into the land of the enlightenment of Buddha and the birthplace of yoga, the stomping ground of Gandhi, the home of the exiled Dalai Lama, the best chai tea on Earth that ‘you never come back the same as you went’ and I’d agree.

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Going to India is not a ‘holiday’ in the seaside and sangria sense unless you find yourself in the sticky honey trap of the distraction that is Goa which to some, however, is a tidy balance of seaside and sangha. In this short life I’ve travelled through Europe, the US and Canada, been into Africa and the Caribbean, and the Middle East and even ventured daringly and more than once into the depths of Wales (think Borneo with sheep) and all of them are very different to England but always, and without exception, it felt that we were on holiday even though we avoid most of the tourist traps  but India for me was like ( another cliché) returning home to a distant memory that fills (just one more cliché) the heart with unbridled joy. It immediately felt like I’d always been there and that I’d just popped out to have a life as an Englishman to see what that must be like.

About a week after returning  I found myself sat in the car in the local High Street waiting for one of the family to return from a self-imposed errand, and whilst  witnessing the passing scene, the only thought that came up, projected or otherwise was ‘lifeless’. A grey stepfordian, freezing turkey, comedown, drudge of lifelessness. And I realised then that what India has, projected or otherwise, is life-force.

Chalmundi Hill, Mysore

I began missing the beeping horns, the colours, and smells and of course stinks, the abstract poverty wearing a smile alongside the newfound western inspired consumerism wearing a frown. I missed the endless tuk tuks, the clever scams, cows and goats and cats and dogs and monkeys wandering ignored everywhere. I missed that all you had to do when a curious local stares at you, which they do, is  not to look away but to smile and be reciprocated with the sunniest of faces. Subsequently I smiled a lot, and at everyone and everyone smiled back.  🙂

India Smiles

I imagine for some it’s a culture shock too far. It’s definitely a long way from most westerners’ comfort zones which explains why so many congregate in AC coffee shops. But for me it put the western world into a Orwellian perspective that modern India is desperately currently trying to emulate, much to its loss – though somehow I think it will take a long time – possibly long enough to be able to attend the funeral of the dying world of capitalism.

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see the other ‘Visiting India?’ blogs in the Visiting India category

A Night with Thich Nhat Hanh

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It was March of last year, you know, that week in 2012 when the sun came out and it was ‘unseasonably hot’ and we were promised hosepipe bans and droughts, that we were lucky enough to have front row seats at the Southbank Centre in London for the ‘Cooling the Flames’ talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.  I say lucky but the word lucky to me is almost a non-word like ‘normal’ and even ‘average’ only works with regards to weights and measures. Show me an average person or a normal day or something that’s ‘lucky’. Lucky suggests that it came from nowhere. I prefer in all instances to use ‘blessed’ instead – so anyway we had front row seats.

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It was a wonderful evening, though it did go on a bit but at least we got first hand training in patience by default. Leaving the building at the end I picked up the leaflet, ‘Cooling the flames – Five Mindfulness Trainings’ before exiting into the paradox of the trendy south bank of London on a barmy night. Lots of people mindfully or maybe not so mindfully getting inebriated. It was straight into the car, which we’d parked on-site, and then a 3 hour drive back to Somerset.

Buddhism, along with Yoga has always vibrated with me, as new agers might say. The past has found me on a working retreat with my partner at Samye Ling in Scotland,

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on a contemplative weekend with ‘the lads’ on Holy Isle

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and visiting Osel Ling in the Sierra Nevada in Spain several times

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and I am Ayya Khema’s greatest fan (which I know is a paradoxical, oxymoronic thing to say)

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but until this morning I hadn’t read that leaflet that I picked up that evening nearly a year ago and presently, having read it, am positively calmer in the inner regions as a result than I have been for more than quite some time – so without further ado – may it talk to you too……   🙂

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the Buddhist vision for a global spirituality and ethic. They are a concrete expression of the Buddha’s teachings on the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the path of right understanding and true love, leading to healing, transformation, and happiness for ourselves and for the world. To practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings is to cultivate the insight of interbeing, or Right View, which can remove all discrimination, intolerance, anger, fear, and despair. If we live according to the Five Mindfulness Trainings, we are already on the path of a bodhisattva. Knowing we are on that path, we are not lost in confusion about our life in the present or in fears about the future.

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.
True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.


True Love

Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others. Practicing true love, we know that we will continue beautifully into the future.

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations. I am determined not to spread news that I do not know to be certain and not to utter words that can cause division or discord. I will practice Right Diligence to nourish my capacity for understanding, love, joy, and inclusiveness, and gradually transform anger, violence, and fear that lie deep in my consciousness.
Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will contemplate interbeing and consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and the Earth.

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Tuk Tuks – avoiding death and scam

“Stop this tuk tuk right now or I’ll grab your keys” was one comment I screamed at a driver. There were many others. I estimate that we took more than a hundred tuk tuks in the few weeks travelling through South India and were treated to a plethora of scams and dishonest practices – but there is no better way to experience the towns and cities than to put you life into the hands of a tuk tuk driver.

Especially this driver – as it’s yours truly

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A tuk tuk which is known by the less colourful name of ‘auto rickshaw’ is basically a dirty two-stroke motorbike with three wheels with a hard plastic hood over to seat, well you’d think to seat two people but I did count seven in quite a few of them. Some are the driver’s pride and joy which is evident in its adornments and cleanliness and some are simply a means to an end aka death traps. There are millions of them on the roads in India.

They are without doubt the cheapest and most exciting way to get about the urban areas and you can pretty much be getting into one, only ten seconds after thinking you might need one because in India a western tourist is simply a very sweet and sticky jam and the tuk tuks are extremely hungry wasps. However jumping into one and saying ‘home James and don’t spare the horses’ might leave you disappointed because there are so many pitfalls and stresses once you step over the threshold to taking a ride, that it’s worth knowing some of the latest dupes and scams that you can find yourself involved in and/or the victim of.  It can be a great game to play of psychology and wits as long as it’s not hot and you’re not slightly tired or distracted otherwise you may fall folly to their little games – which seem to vary from city to city. We stayed in three cities and each one had its own unique scam amongst the universal ones.

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In Mysore, it wasn’t too bad. One day you could pay 100 rupees and the next 50 for the exact same journey of 3 miles but as it was 85 rupees to the £1, one at first feels no pressure to grumble but that will inevitably wear off.  ALWAYS ask how much it will be to wherever you’re going and when they tell you a price that you think is ok, repeat it back to them and get confirmation at least three times. Two times isn’t enough. Tuk tuks have meters yet we only saw them in use on two occasion in all the tuk tuk journeys undertaken.

Once in a tuk tuk, most drivers will ask you where you are from. This is not asked to discuss your life or cricket but to know what language they need to scam you in. They are of course very low paid, work very hard and have enormous competition and they will try to sell a journey to every tourist spot in the area – which can be much cheaper and very useful if you actually want to see the places they are offering and in Mysore there are some wonderful places (watch this space for an upcoming Mysore guide blog) but most tuk tuk drivers haven’t yet learned the English for ‘no’. It is good to talk in a slow east European accent naming exactly where you want to go and then answering every question they broach at you with ‘capotski’ and a big smile.  You’ll get to your destination quicker. Always know where your destination is as they don’t.  Whilst in Mysore we were staying near the Pattabhi Jois yoga centre yet it was surprising to us how many drivers asked us where it was and when I explained to them that they in fact were the driver and we the western tourists they would pull over and ask locals who always checked us out and then had a chuckle with the driver in Tamil or Hindi or maybe it was east european but nonetheless it’s a wonderful endeavour for anyone who has or  is recovering from paranoid tendencies .

The driver stopped to run an errand

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In Cochin, they have a  different approach. On the whole they are friendlier here and speak much better English but will offer you a free trip or a very cheap one, at say 20 rupees, if you would only do them a favour and visit this shop or that shop as they get a petrol token from ‘the rich Kashmiri owner’ and all you have to do is look around whilst they wait outside. We did this the first time and the idea is that you are pressured into buying something to which the driver gets a percentage that adds up to much more than any fare he would have received. I assume he gets a little something for just taking you there. We were in Cochin nearly a week and virtually every single driver tried to get you into some shop which are always full of westerners trying their very best to say no as they delve for their purses and wallets.

In Bangalore, and I have to assume all bigger cities, it’s a whole different ball game. They don’t even hide behind friendliness. But above all they tell bare-faced lies and even go close to what could be construed as kidnapping in some countries.

One morning we decided, from our city centre hotel, to go to the huge Hare Krishna temple of ISKCON seven miles away but still in the centre of the city – Bangalore is huge and sprawling. I asked a tuk tuk driver how much it would be to go to the ISKCON place and he looked at me as if I was a talking cat. I said it slowly several times and added other words like K R I S H N A   T E M P L E  but to no avail. We were then ambushed by an astute, silk shirted, much younger driver who spoke perfect English and knew Mick Jagger who pulled us from this ride to his own tuk tuk admonishing the older guy in Hindi. He then explained that ISKCON is closed until 2pm. I said that the lonely planet guide says it’s open all day, he assured us it was not but offered us a tour for only 100 rupees to see various temples. This he did – at first – but then it became a pressured set of stops to various emporiums. I had to demand quite strongly that he returned us. The ISKCON temple, of course, had been open.

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The next day we decided to walk for a while before asking a kerb-crawling tuk tuk how much it would be to the botanical gardens, he said 20 rupees, we got in and off we went. Whilst driving, he told us that the gardens was closed until 2pm and he’d take us on a tour. I told him that it’s OK, just take us to the gardens anyway at which point he stopped the tuk tuk on what can only be described as a six lane inner city motorway with cows and turned to me and said, ‘no it is closed’, I assured him that it was open to which he got a tad annoyed and so we exited the tuk tuk to his fury.

We were then immediately picked up by another one at 20 rupees. I explained that I don’t want to go any shops, we just want to go to the gardens, he agreed then took a turn at speed and in totally the opposite direction before explaining to me that he was just taking us to his friend’s shop. This was the point where the calmness my yoga training has brought me left the tuk tuk and was replaced by my training from the streets of Northern England. It could have got hairy but I didn’t fancy a Bangalore prison so we left him still with his keys to his auto, shouting apologies back at us. I genuinely think it was the first time that he’d been challenged like this.

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But now we were in the middle of nowhere and so we flagged another tuk tuk down as we were determined to see some bloody flowers before the day was out. He told us it would be 100 rupees. And here’s a tip – a tuk tuk is cheap for a reason. This 100 rupee tuk tuk was intending to take us to our destination without us having to look first at wooden elephants and brass Buddhas. I did however, ten minutes later, utter, under my breath, ‘for fuck’s sake’, when he flew past the entrance to the botanical gardens. I told him but he assured me he hadn’t. Two miles further on and for the third time in an hour I forced a driver to stop. This one however was not, it turned out, scamming us, he was just completely clueless and realising his mistake and the time he’d now lost randomly pulled over and said, ‘we’re here’ pointing to what was simply a front lawn in front of an average sized government building.  This time I refused to leave the tuk tuk to which he hailed over a policeman and we both explained our disagreement with me having an ace card commonly known as a city map. The policeman gave him short thrift and 15 minutes later (the time it takes to do 2 miles in Bangalore) we were at the gates.

The gatekeeper mistakenly short-changed us, I say mistakenly in that he had deliberately short-changed us and that was his mistake.

I promised myself there and then that I will never return to Bangalore on purpose – though the gardens were lovely.  They even had spit bins dotted about to stop the paths getting too gooey.
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Porthcurno. Seals and Dolphins

It was decided that our dog Reggie would be taken with us on a 3 mile circuitous walk within the Penwith peninsular of Cornwall. We drove to the car park above Porthcurno and followed a guide picked up from our lodgings. It was windy of course as this was Cornwall after all. It has wind a lot here as evidenced by trees standing shocked at their perpetual efforts to  escape eastwards, their stubborn roots being their only thwart. We parked at the car park above Porthcurno beach and walked back up the road to find a lane opposite the telegraph museum. The museum is sited here as Porthcurno, ironically, was the spot where the first telegraph cables came ashore connecting Britain to India and the rest of the world. Ironic because today 142 years later you’d be hard pressed to get a phone signal and in some Cornish villages the ‘internet’ is regarded as an urban myth.

Artists impression of the first comms to come ashore via telegraph in 1870

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We took a left along a footpath and came out past a stone cross on to open land. Just as I spotted the church of St Levan, the sky turned black – because of approaching rain – I’m not called Damien – and the stroll turned into an its about to pour down jog and then to a canter and we reached the church porch with convenient bench seats literally as the heavens opened.

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So we sat and ate a Crunchie each waiting for it to go off but this didn’t seem likely so we thought we might as well carry on but not before having a look at the church. Stepping inside we found a bubbly lady addressing the Christmas decorations as tonight was St Levan’s big night – the annual carol service. We chatted and learned that they would be using real candles and Health and Safety be damned as the glow sticks from previous years just didn’t cut it.

She told us that her father was born, bred and died in Cornwall and only left the county once in his whole lifetime and that was to go one mile into the Devil’s county of Devon to Plymouth hospital when nearing the end of his life. We discussed the ongoing hippy influx to Penwith and the local lady explained that England is the shape of a Christmas stocking full of fruits and nuts with all the nuts always finding their way to the big toe.

As for the church it was thought that it, or more accurately the site, had pagan origins – don’t they all – as there is a stone outside that was said to have been venerated for its holy powers and fertility rites and St Levan himself decided to riven the pagan rock and then uttered the prophecy,

When the panniers astride,

A Pack Horse can ride,

Through St Levan’s Stone,

The World will be done.

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Thing is, Christianity has been playing with me a bit of late. For example, when we were on the plane to India the man sat on the end seat of our row of three told us that he was a British born Pakistani Christian and said that if were ever travelling out of Gatwick again, to come and stay with him for free as he only lives 20 minutes from the airport and he has a large house. He said it was the Christian thing to do. When we were in India and stuck at a train station not having a clue what to do, what train to catch, where to go, an Indian youth who spoke perfect English helped us – at the station, on the train on what to do and how and even got us transport from our destination to the hotel and he thought it was the Christian thing to do.  Later that night and two hundred miles further on a family took us in, made us tea whilst ringing around to find us a room, all to no avail, but not before arranging us transport. Their home was adorned with Jesus and Mary’s. The transport took us to one of the best and friendliest hotels we’ve ever stayed at where we were made very welcome and invited to meet the whole family and eat with them, which we did. They were Christians. None of these people wanted anything in return. Then later in the week, when we were in Cochin, we were hit by a horrendous storm whilst out walking and the first doorway to run into happened to be that of a church – in mid service. We went in with such a head turning bluster that we decided to sit down and wait the rain out which of course stopped about the same time that the service did.

All this Christian help in a predominantly Hindu country wasn’t lost on me and it was reminisced upon as we left the Cornish church of St Levan  – at exactly the same time as the rain ceased.  It was then that I quipped, ‘well maybe I’m Jesus’ and at that exact moment my foot slipped on a wet stone and for the first time in over 20 years I fell over with my elbow hitting the ground first followed by my arse which settled in a deep puddle. Arm in agony and bottom drenched I involuntarily looked up and shouted ‘WHAT?’

Just saying.

After this we traipsed over a headland to join the South West coast path and quickly got the dog onto his lead as cliffs were new to him and he kept jumping on to overhangs doing his best impression of the Lion King – which we know he’s never seen.

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The path was muddy and I no longer trusted my boots but under the circumstances I tried not to curse at them. We soon came down into the coastal hamlet of Porthgwarra, pronounced Porthgwarra. It has a rock with a hole in it.

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You can of course continue on the South West coast path and head to Lands End only 3 miles away but we turned around here and back tracked a few hundred yards before taking a right fork and passing St Levan’s Well. St Levan, it seems, was obviously a bit of a lad in these parts in his day as he had his own church, cracked huge rocks open whilst making up prophecies and has his own well – and a sacred one at that!  But no matter how we tried, Reggie was not going to drink from its water. Reggie will drink from any vestibule or puddle, even from water that’s settled in concave cow pats, but he was simply having none of this, hind legs dug in and reverse lights on. I took this as a sign so I just bathed in it, meaning I splashed some water about my head rather than lolling around in it, in my altogether splashing and singing auld lang syne.  It was much too cold.

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We continued on walking just above Porth Chapel beach with its untrodden sand like freshly fallen snow and so we left it that way. We climbed up to the ridge to traverse the car park of the dramatic outdoor theatre that is Minack. The lady of St Levan’s Church had told us that hardly a show had been cancelled in 2012 despite it being the wettest year on record in England. Minack’s astounding setting is iced off by the view it affords of Porthcurno beach and I think you would have to trudge more than a few miles of coast path to find a better view.

Minack Theatre and Porthcurno

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At this point the pathway down to the beach turned into what was nearly a scramble – very steep – and I was still wearing the same boots that had been the earlier victims of divine intervention. Reggie had run ahead to check out what the only other dog on the beach below was chasing after.  Then I noticed that two large rocks on the beach were moving and that a man further down on the path had grabbed Reggie to stop him getting on to the beach and approaching these rocks because these rocks turned out to be huge grey seals having a snooze and seemingly the gent wasn’t worried about Reggie attacking the seals but the seals attacking Reggie. The man obviously was ignorant of Reggie’s fears. Reggie is a sheepdog and his dad was a farmer’s cow herder but the genes didn’t get passed down as Reggie is scared witless of sheep, cows, alighting Heron’s, hay bails that are covered in black plastic, scare crows, other dogs and definitely moving rocks. Reggie just ran for the sea and I was saluted by one of the photogenic seals.

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Sadly further up the beach, a baby Dolphin lay. Thankfully at least it had been reported as it was tagged.

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Back to the car to make our way back to St Ives. We stopped for refreshment at The Engine Inn in the hamlet of Cripplesease (which I thought aptly poetic).

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This is one of those pubs that you would take visiting Americans to, if you had any, as it is so quintessentially English that it feels like it’s straight from a Hollywood set – just remember to stay on the road, keep clear of the moors, beware the moon lads…

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How to Avoid Delhi Belly

The qualification for daring to write such a blog is that we recently spent three weeks travelling through Southern India on dirty, sardine packed buses, on trains that were so unclean that even the flies got off at each stop, to cafes without adequate sanitation such as running water from the one tap in the loo with no paper with the one toilet which might flush if your luck was in.

We ate and drank well, we didn’t wear plague suits and none of us got even slightly ill.

We could have just been very, very lucky as over 70% of all visitors to India succumb to the DB or it could be because we had a disciplined regime that we adhered to, what Buddhists might refer to as mindfulness – and that is the first thing you must have – especially in India.  If you’re the sort of person who loses their keys every five minutes then go to Disneyland or Center Parcs instead.

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I was given lots of advice about the dreaded ‘Delhi belly’ for months before the trip. None of it however was how to actually avoid it but what to do when you inevitably get it which included, ‘take lots of Immodium’ and  ‘if you’re not better within 48 hours go and see a doctor’ – the latter advice has to be noted. We met a frantic girl whose boyfriend had been losing weight at an accelerating weight she said for over three days and she needed to go to Goa. We said that he needed to go to a doctor and not the Dr Pepper sort she was buying to hydrate him.

The best bit of really bad advice I was given was, ‘you’re going to get it whatever you do, so you may as well, as soon as you get there, drink a few pints of water straight from the taps and get it over with’ – DO NOT DO THIS. The favourite tip I collected and one I did put in to my top pocket was, ‘don’t travel on buses with it, as they don’t have toilets and they don’t stop’ – a combination, I admit, that I wouldn’t like to put to the test.

So, here is a list I complied mentally in the quieter moments on the long train rides;

Don’t expect immunity by staying or more particularly eating in 4 and 5 star hotels or restaurants. Eating at a 5 star and expecting to stay DB free is like buying a Volvo for safety reasons and then constantly pulling out at junctions in front of oncoming traffic thinking the side impact bars are made of armoured iron. We all know those Volvo drivers.

The rules are not necessarily about where you eat but what you eat and how it is cooked and whether all the staff who handle your food and that you may never see have washed their hands.  It is far, far safer to eat from a street vendor wearing disposable gloves (a lot do) who has just cooked your food right in front of you than it is to put literal blind faith into an unseen chef in the sealed off kitchen.

Forget all about meat in India. You don’t need it and the risk from illness is high. The Hindu diet is vegetarian and rather than having to endure the token Vegetable Biryani at your local curry house which always tastes like a meat dish with the meat removed, the quantity of vegetarian dishes to be enjoyed in India are incalculable and all the ones I tried were astonishingly gorgeous, particularly Pea and Cashew Nut Curry and of course any non-meat Dosa. If you think you can’t live without meat, visit a local market and that should sort you out, possibly for good.

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Do not eat the skin of fruit such as apples, pears, plums, peaches etc as these may have been washed in DB causing water or had flies land and play footsie on them, and/or been handled by many hands. Rubbing fruit up and down your arm mimicking a Cricket bowler simply will not cut it.  Stick to bananas and oranges or peel everything carefully yourself.

Bananas, however, are everywhere!

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Otherwise eat only cooked food, ideally vegetables and always try to be able to view the cooking of it.  There are plenty of Pizza Huts and international corporate chains with their pre prepared fayre that we tried occasionally in the bigger towns and they have Air Con! Do not eat salads as they are nearly always washed in water.

Chai Tea. If you go to India and don’t have a Chai Tea from a street stall at least once a day, you should be sent home. It truly is the taste of India (and Glastonbury Festival as it happens) and it costs only 5 to 10p a cup (In India that is, more like £3 a cup at Glastonbury) and each vendor uses a slightly different recipe so every time it’s a slightly new experience. We must have had 10 cups a day each and each time they were served in small polystyrene or plastic – used only once, bad for the environment, but good for your intestine, cups. We were served in glasses only a couple of times and in those instances we tipped the scorching tea around the edges of the glass where our lips were to go as a form of crude albeit risky sterilisation.

Water. Don’t allow water from any tap or dispenser into any bodily orifice so avoid home-made colonics and keep you mouth shut whilst in the shower as it really doesn’t take much. Travellers are advised to always check the seal on bottled water as they can be tampered with and then filled with tap water for more profit. We checked every time but never discovered a broken seal. Before going back to your lodgings, buy an extra bottle of water to use to clean your teeth. Loads of people, it seems, come a cropper here by using the sink taps and thinking that not swallowing will save them. That is extremely high risk. Use the bottles.

Ice Cream and ice in drinks. Don’t touch. When ordering drinks that would normally come with ice such as shorts and soft drinks, always and firmly say ‘no ice’. It’s of no benefit to fish the ice out once in as the damage is already done.

Alcohol. And here lies a problem. The bonus is that drinking out in bars in India would probably turn you tee total as they are always darkened to the point that you’d think there was a power cut, women are not forbidden but I wouldn’t dream of taking a woman into one as the men seemed far more pissed than they do in any bar I’ve ever been in, they re all in a state of total squalor and the smell of urine is nostril ticklingly overwhelming – so if you find yourself in a typical back street, hidden away Indian bar – as they all seem to be, you can assure yourself that you are definitely an alcoholic. I did put my head into quite a few in different towns for reasons of research for this very blog but was careful not to touch anything. God knows what the toilets were like or even if anyone bothers to leave their seat to go one!

However, towns that attract a lot of westerners have more approachable bars, and hotels often have bars for non residents and here lies another risk and that risk is getting drunk, because once drunk you forget about the ice and may miss the not perfectly clean glass rim and may end up eating anything. Kebab houses only exist in the UK for this very reason.

There is a golden elixir that each person must carry a vial of at all times – and that is alcohol hand gel. I can’t emphasise enough how essential this is. Every time you’ve been to the loo and had to open the door or  touch any surface in there really, have a squeeze of hand gel.  Do not touch a surface and allow you hand to get to your face before first stopping at the hand gel.

I’m not advertising for Dettol – there are many brands to choose from – but the picture does say a 1000 words

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But the item that we thought was the ‘be all and end all’ was a homeopathy travel kit that we purchased for this very trip. In fact it may well have been the use of its contents that was the only reason we didn’t fall ill. There is really no way to know other than going again and not taking one of these kits – and we won’t be doing that!
The one we used and would certainly suggest checking out was from
http://suzyparkerhomeopath.com/

I’ll add-on to this list as I think of others but if it all goes wrong and you find yourself stuck in a bedroom and toilet for two days, be sure that you have the sort of room and loo that makes that time more comfortable and if you must travel whilst ill then either breakfast on Immodium or dress in Pampers.

see also ‘North India, Glastonbury to Delhi’ at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/12/north-india-in-23-days-day-1-glastonbury-to-delhi/

and ‘North India. In Search of Gandhi (Part 2) at
https://kevollier.com/2014/04/23/north-india-in-search-of-gandhi-part-2/

Hello India!

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Our trip was blessed from the start because, although unbeknown to us at the time, we were met in the Bangalore arrivals hall by Lewis Hamilton very cleverly disguised as an Indian taxi driver.

If you only do one thing on your travels to India, make sure that you pre book a taxi to greet you with a sign with your name emblazoned upon it on arrival, otherwise the very first thing you will be subjected to the second you step through those airport doors is 3500 taxi drivers who all want you in their cab and all have a hotel that you must stay in, whether you’ve booked one ahead or not.

Our driver had driven 4 hours from Mysore, had waited over an hour at the airport and then driven us back to Mysore which took 5 hours because of a serious road accident, that we thought he might have caused on the way to get us, and it cost us a total of only £28!

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You will hear people say that the Indians are crazy drivers but there are hardly ever any accidents and it’s all perfect chaos. This, you must understand, is complete balderdash. India is the number 1 country in the world for road traffic deaths with an astounding 15 % of those killed being pedestrians – though not so astounding really as pavements don’t really exist in a way we would expect them to, such as being able to walk more than two metres before having to circumnavigate a huge tree or climb over a parked car, limbo under a parked lorry, hurdle endless motorbikes, avoiding the taut, metal neck high cables whilst falling down a pothole.

170,000 people were killed on India’s roads  in 2010.  The injured are in the millions.

Luckily I hadn’t researched this before we went there and so was surprised when after only an hour being in India to have witnessed a horrific crash when 4 un-helmeted people, two of them small children, and all riding on the one motorbike were nudged off by a passing 4X4 at speed.  However, we never saw anything else in the three weeks we were there, though we were involved in approximately 18000 near misses.

It is true what Judi Dench says in the movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, that you either fight the wave and risk near drowning or you dive through it and rise above and float along which I assume is code for you either let go or go mad. Perversely the accident we witnessed and the revelation that there was nothing whatsoever we could do made us face this choice at the very start and we took the former.

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I fell in love with India within an hour. It was like coming home and the only thing I could compare that to was the coming home feeling that shrooms had instigated when I was a young man. The colours, the vibrancy, the sheer lifeforce was astonishing and breathtaking and it never left me once – nor of course did the noise, the rhythmic beating of the countless and constant horns. They even beep at red lights, so much so that local governments have started erecting countdown signs at junctions to assure drivers that the lights will go to green.

On the 5 hour trip in the back of the taxi to Mysore I successfully managed to decode the beeping system. They don’t beep in anger and I never saw one inkling of road rage. It works like this – as the car or tuk tuk or lorry or bus or motorbike your riding in or on approaches another vehicle, they beep to warn of their approach, they again beep as they are about to pass and again if they think the vehicle ahead wasn’t listening. The vehicle ahead will beep acknowledgement of your beep whilst at the same time beeping ahead to the ones in front and to the sides of him. Once passed, another beep says thanks.  Also beeps are made at any approaching hazard whatsoever, be it a junction, a pedestrian, goat, dog, elephant, drunk or cow of which there is one or the other about every two metres. Each and every vehicle will also add its own beep approaching any one of these hazards and all hazards will ignore all beeping as if it wasn’t occurring – indeed after only three days I was wandering across roads oblivious myself.  So the only word one can realistically use as an adjective is ‘cacophany’

This new car owner took his vehicle to the local temple to be blessed. I saw this a few times and think it a very good idea

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Our driver, presumably delayed by the accidents went faster and faster and demonstrated great skill in multi tasking as he drove at 80 ( I was watching from the back seat), talked constantly on his mobile and all the while partaking in the pastime of the afore mentioned beeping.

By the time we arrived at our first weeks digs I felt as if I’d been strapped in an unstoppable dodgem at Disneyland for 5 hours with the only difference being that the dodgem would have had a seatbelt.

But we’d arrived, I’d fell in love and after a few hours sleep we would experience our first of what would be a hundred plus tuk tuk rides (Think the vehicular equivalent of bungee jumping without the rope bit).

No Gadgets, No Cry

gadgetsOn the return flight from Bangalore to London via Dubai, a stewardess, whilst pouring out yet another coffee, asked where we’d been. She nodded expectantly and with reasonable un-interest as we said, ‘a mini tour of South India’ but her whole demeanour changed when we added, ‘without phones, without watches and without computers’, which she then repeated back to us incredulously as it seemed she thought she’d misheard.

I guess she was about 25 and she made my head tilt to the side with a smile when she said, ‘wow, I’ve never known anyone to do that, that must be totally amazing’ and ran off to inform the rest of the Emirates staff who then gave us respectful nods and glances each time they passed our seats because we were the people who had spent three weeks in India-without phones, without watches and without  computers and that obviously put us right up there with the explorers of old.  I mean even Bear Grylls has GPS, phones,  a film crew and a 5 star hotel.

It seems that under a certain age ( I estimate about 25 to 30) to travel without the crutches and aids of the modern world is seen as an extreme sport – much more dangerous than bungee jumping because we were also without the umbilical elastic rope attached.
We did use internet cafes a few times when we were settled  just to check on the kids. The hardest thing, though not that hard at all really, was not having a watch and having to resort to saying ‘excuse me, have you the time’ on a rare occasion- the pay off with this is that you will not only be given the time but also one of those Indian smiles – but when travelling, railway and bus stations still tend to have clocks.

In addition, it was the longest time since I passed my driving test that I hadn’t driven, not that you’d want to drive in India, unless of course your psychiatrist insisted. None of this  you understand was done as any sort of challenge nor for charity.  We just wanted to be free of the shackles that we all have imposed on ourselves – and now having done it, all I can say to everyone, and I have been doing so for the last week, is that if you want a true holiday, a vacation free of pointless distractions, leave behind – in a drawer at home – your hand helds, your net books and tablets, your watches and your driving licence and experience what some of the over 30’s might still remember – a new freedom. And for added comfort, leave all jewellery and tight clothes as well. You will be so much better for it, you’ll do it every time.

Right – the next blog will be my very first impressions of the baptism of fire that is India.
I’m just waiting at the baggage carousel for the rucksack to come through……….still blissfully unaware of the psychopath that is waiting in arrivals holding a smile, his taxi keys and a board that says KEV AND ALI OLLIER.

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

Kino MacGregor, London.

I’m writing this with the only things on my body that are currently not stiff and that’s the tips of my fingers (and ok yes the other one). This weekends Kino MacGregor yoga workshops in London are responsible and what workshops they were.!


Mrs Ollier and I left home on Friday morning walking to the bus stop and catching a bus into Wells, and then another from Wells to Bristol Temple Meads and on to a train to London Paddington and several tubes before eventually alighting at Covent Garden in torrential rain to then find the hotel on foot.
Covent Garden Underground is the one tube station in the capital that you wouldn’t want to alight from, as 193 steps up a pre war curly staircase are the method of alightenment, which includes, from most people, a one word exhalation on reaching the final step, that’s if you’re fit enough to be able to still utter anything but gasping air, as 193 steps is the equivalent of climbing to the top of a 15-storey building. It was later that we discovered that there were also lifts in place and we’d managed to miss the signs saying so, no doubt obscured by the constant throngs of travellers. Obviously.


We found our hotel and dropped our bags and yoga mats into the room, freshened up and wandered off out again to find the triyoga studio where we were later to attend the first of the three workshops, titled Burn Baby Burn.

The studio was right in the hub of Carnaby Street, the very same Carnaby Street of Beatles and Twiggy fame, which is in Soho and only a 1 mile – 20 minute walk away so rather than spend that 20 minutes descending those steps again, we decided to walk and four miles and two hours later arrived at the triyoga studio. (We had no idea where we went wrong but we managed to repeat that incorrectness twice more in the next 24 hours).

The people at triyoga studio (https://www.triyoga.co.uk/) were, as you’d expect for anything yogic, lovely and friendly. On peeping into a studio room I observed many yoga mats being laid out by a member of staff which prompted a question from me, ‘so you don’t need to bring your own yoga mat then?’. ‘No’, the lovely, smiley lady replied. My yoga mat is, of course, of the eco variety and made of 100% natural rubber and therefore a tad heavy and it had spent the day, unnecessarily it now turns out, with me on two buses, a train, lots of tubes and their attending stairs and lengthy walking tunnels including the 193 steps. ‘Oh’, I said.
We left, only to return a few hours and two Chai Latte’s later, quite knackered, for the intense first class from Kino.

Kino MacGregor is a funny yoga teacher as in she is very comical – at least to anyone on a yoga trip. She is also extremely knowledgable, confident and true to the practice. When she was just 29 she became the youngest woman, and one of only a select group of people, to receive the Certification to teach Ashtanga Yoga by its founder Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India.

Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


Suffice to say this class did certainly burn, developed to awaken the inner fire by using the Mulabandha, the root lock, and within an hour I was pulling up my anus, lifting my perineum and testicles, squeezing in my lower belly and drawing in the space between my pubic bone and sacrum, all at the same time, and what a heat that created and I felt amazing, we both did. (Please note Mrs Ollier didn’t have to raise her testicles, using instead the cervix – just in case you were wondering).
We later left the studio to be enveloped in the crazy, hedonistic, Friday night shenanigans of London as we drifted hazily through Soho, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Wall to wall people all the way. Every single pub and bar crammed inside and 30 foot outside. London has seemingly not had a recession.

Another Chai Latte stop and then to bed and up early for yet another Chai Latte before a full primary series talk through in the morning. The Chai, on top of the bottle of water I had for breakfast turned out to be an oversight as I had to pee three times in the half hour before the class and I wanted to go again just as Kino entered the room, but it was clear that nobody was leaving this class until it was over and done and so I began Surya Namaskara A (Sun Salutation A) trying desperately not to think of waterfalls or running taps and when it all finished two hours later I didn’t even need to go as I think my urine had evaporated through my head.

        This photo, taken by Kino, is the only picture ever taken of me in a yoga class. I am the right foot, ankle and lower leg in the bottom right hand corner.

After a lunch break (we had a Chai Latte) there was a brilliant three-hour afternoon workshop on arm balancing and near the end Kino suggested that when back at home we all do one full minute each day in Bakasana, the crow posture, before she had us all do a full minute right there and then. Well, that worked!

Sadly we had to leave after the class to get the 7pm train back to Bristol and therefore missing a Mysore session in the morning and a back bends workshop in the afternoon which I was a bit done about as I do a weekly Mysore session with my wonderful Glastonbury teacher and it’s always my favourite class so to do one with Kino adjusting would have been a great extra dimensional experience – but on waking this morning I was having more than a jot of trouble reaching for my socks – and they were on a shelf!

Kino teaches classes worldwide and particularly at her home in Miami where she is co founder of the Miami Life Center – and if you ever get the chance or opportunity, I would seriously recommend treating yourself.

In the meantime check out http://www.kinoyoga.com/