A Travellerspoint blog

Mad in Madurai and coming home!

I’m home! What a crazy adventure India has been – I spent the last week of my travels in a small ashram in Madurai, which was a completely different experience to anything else I had done so far. Madurai is in the south of Indi, where the temperature was hot and muggy. The ashram itself was beautiful – full of trees, flowers, peacocks and walking paths. Although very simple, by ashram standards it was lovely- my room was more like a hotel room, although we did eat cross legged on the floor, with our hands! I was reunited with my good friend Ashley, who I met in my teacher training back in December, which made the whole stay so much more fun. It was so lovely to catch up.

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Chai time- we only had brunch and dinner on the ashra, so chai time was extremely important!

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Enjoying newfound flexibility while hanging out in the dorms

I spent the first few days getting to grip with the Sivananda yoga style, which is a lot stronger and a set sequence of poses. It included my nemesis – the shoulder stand. I definitely can’t do it alone, but I can almost do it if there is someone there to guide my legs up. For the first few days, I really enjoyed the rhythm of the same yoga class twice a day, but it quickly lost its appeal. I’m sure there’s a yogic lesson in there somewhere! I also learned how to defend myself against monkeys who ran the ashram, after having several bananas stolen from right under me.

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They may be cute, but monkeys are a menace- this is as close as I could get and still be brave enough to take my phone out!

Last Friday was the ashram wide day off, so I signed up for a temple and beach trip, expecting a nice tranquil day. How wrong I was! It was a four hour bus journey at 5am, in a cramped bus where the seat in front of me was so broken that she was basically laying on me. It was hot, dark, and airless- I usually don’t suffer with claustrophobia, but this was an exception! We eventually made it to Rameswaram Temple, a huge temple devoted to Ram which has 22 individual wells. We were told that Hindus believe that being washed in these wells would clear them of sin or karma. In my mind, I had peaceful scenes of being gently doused in water while wafting around the temple. How wrong I was! The temple was absolutely rammed, in places my feet were not touching the floor yet I was still being propelled forward by the crowd. It was probably the closest I have ever been to another person! The washing in question was essentially having buckets of water flung on us as we passed each of the 22 wells. While it was a lot of fun, it was absolutely freezing being soaking wet in the temple and shuffling towards the next well. Sadly, you’re not allowed to take photos in the temple so I have no pictures of the chaos and my drowned rat impression! After the temple, we drove to a beach where we had to swim fully clothed which was an experience. It was so lovely to bob around in the waves after the freezing cold temple.

This the best link I could find with photos of the temples and wells: https://www.mistay.in/travel-blog/the-complete-guide-to-visiting-22-wells-of-rameshwaram-temple/

After the adventures in the temple, I caught a nasty cold which meant that I spent my last days in bed dreaming of all the food I was going to eat when I got home. It wasn’t exactly the ending I had imagined to my two months– but I was well looked after by Ashley (who just happens to be a German nurse!). Before I knew it, my time in Madurai was coming to an end. I had planned to spend this week doing a lot of reflecting and being proud of my progress in yoga – instead, I was rationing toilet paper for my faucet of a nose, and thinking about how on earth I was going to manage my cough on a plane! Thankfully though, the journey home (although looooong) was fine. Two highlights were my goodbye McDonalds breakfast with Ashley in Mumbai airport (McDonalds in India is incredible for vegetarians) and being met by dad in Heathrow airport.

Now I am at home finally, trying to adjust to the cold and the dark and being very overwhelmed with the food choices – where is the rice?! It was so lovely to come home and give mum a big cwtch, reunite with Gelly, and fall into bed. I’ve had a fantastic two months (although it has gone FAR too quickly!!) and its good to be back at home where there is always toilet paper, and you can drink tap water. I’ve already booked into a few yoga classes next week! Thank you for following along with my trip – I haven’t figured out how to respond to comments yet, but I have appreciated every one

Posted by tegzevans 08:56 Comments (0)

Gorgeous Goa

Hello! Long time, no speak – honestly, I have no good excuse except being very lazy and soaking up the sun here in Goa. I can’t believe it’s already only a few days until I move onto my next and final stop – an ashram in Madurai, Tamil Nadu, before starting the long trip home!

I spent my first week in Goa in a beautiful and peaceful little yoga centre in Mandrem, where I did nothing except yoga, get massages, read, sleep and sit. I’d signed up to a week long Ayurvedic rest and rejuvenation programme, which meant that I had a massage every day, and by the end of the week I was honesty floating. It was heaven, and I especially loved the twice daily yoga classes. I am definitely someone that can just flip onto autopilot when there’s a structure in place – by the end of the week I had even managed to do my first plough pose, and rise up into a shoulder stand (not the same as a headstand!). To celebrate, on my last night, a friend and I walked to the supermarket and I had an innocent looking Cornetto from the supermarket freezer… which turned out to give me horrible food poisoning!

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View from my balcony

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Special dinner served on banana leaf

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Sunrise beach yoga!

Everyone gets food poisoning in India, but I was secretly chuffed that I had evaded it successfully…until the final two weeks of my trip. Within a few hours, I was in agony and bedridden. My poor neighbours! The next day also happened to be the day I had to move out and head to a new hotel, thankfully only a few minutes away by taxi. I was really sad to be leaving the yoga centre I was at – they had taken care of me once they’d learned I was ill, checking in on me every few hours and bringing me lots of herbal tea. Once I’d made it to the new place, I basically stayed in bed all day, feverish and just generally not good. I couldn’t even read or scroll Instagram, which should tell you how ill I was! I woke up at around 9:30 at night to a banging on my hotel room door – a very confused Indian man was asking me why my mum had called the hotel, and if I was ok?? It turns out, knowing I was ill and after I’d failed to respond to her messages for hours, my mum had called the hotel to have someone physically check that I was ok. It was so bizarre trying to reassure this very confused Indian man that yes, that was my mum calling from the UK, and yes, I was unwell but I really didn’t need to go to hospital or see a doctor. Looking back now, it was absolutely hilarious, and I was famous around the hotel with the staff afterwards as they all asked if I was the one who’s mum had called! I am very lucky to have a mum that would literally call the other side of the world to check I’m ok. Thanks mum!

It’s taken a few days, but I’m feeling a lot better now. The hotel I am at right now is a lot bigger and more upscale, but I’m not as in love with it as I have been with the smaller yoga centres I’ve been staying at so far. I tried my first yoga class here this morning. In typical Indian style, there was a secret change of venue which meant I ended up at a Russian yoga class until some of us were rescued and taken to another class, where I was repeatedly told to smile by the older male instructor, which really pissed me off! I’m not proud of it, but when he finally pulled a face and said in front of the class (albeit of about 8 people) “Look, this is the look you’re projecting right now”, I told him to stop telling me to fucking smile. So much for ahimsa and compassion on my part! I’ve steered clear of yoga for the rest of the day because I was so annoyed, and instead I’ve resolved to just lay by the sea for the next few days. (Sorry for the swearing Gramma!)

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Night time walk to the hotel

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Breakfast views

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Sunset views

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Beach time!

Aside from the above, I really like Goa so far, and I’m convinced mum would love it – I’m already plotting where I would (hypothetically) do my next yoga certification! I think it is just a little to hot for me here though, which is unfortunate because my next stop is going to be a bit hotter again. I don’t think it’s likely that you’ll hear from me next week – my schedule on the ashram is going to be busy right from the 5am wake up gong (ouch) to lights out at 10pm. I land back in the UK on the 31st of January, and promise to update you all on the final week then!

Posted by tegzevans 15:25 Comments (1)

Varanasi

I’m writing today from the holy city of Varanasi, the last stop on my sight seeing tour. I’ve tried my best to take photos, but they just don’t seem to do it justice! I’ve tried to add links where I can :)

Varanasi is a very important city for Hindu’s, as they believe that a dip in the Ganges river here will erase their sins, and that if they die here, they escape reincarnation. It’s one of four holy cities on the Ganges. After a long travel day to Varanasi from Agra via a flight from Delhi, my first stop was to see the Ganga Aarti, which is the offering of prayers to the River Ganges. I like to think I’m a fairly seasoned traveller, but the walk to the Aarti yesterday was intense. I know I’ve emphasised a lot the craziness and business of Indian streets – but Varanasi is on steroids, and I was super tired before we started! There were moments where motorbikes and mopeds were brushing against my right side as people jostled for space on my left, while simultaneously trying to dodge cow poop, rickshaws and the oncoming shouts of vendors. I was terrified I’d lose my guide in the crush and confusion – but the secret to travel in India is to just surrender to the mayhem, and try not to get too distracted by the amazing sari shops! We eventually got to the Aarti, and my guide had managed to get seats overlooking the ghat (set of steps to the river), so it was much less crowded.

According to mum, I had massively undersold the scale of the Aarti compared to my instagram story, so I will do my best to convey the scale here! I’d seen some Aarti’s in Rishikesh, but this one in Varanasi is definitely bigger. Prayers, devotion, incense, smoke, fire and flowers are offered to the Ganga by seven Hindu priests, who stand on raised flower covered platforms and face the river. There’s singing, drumming, bells, conch shells being blown along with the singing and clapping and ‘Jai’s!’ Of at least two thousand pilgrims. It was overwhelming – but magical. The whole Aarti lasted around 30 minutes, after which it was back to the hotel ready for a 6am pickup.

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A section of some of the crowd- didn’t think to take a panoramic picture!

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A super grainy, zoomed in photo of the types of fire offerings used

I found a very long video on YouTube that you can flick through if you want to see what it looks like!

The best way to see the character of Varanasi is by early morning boat ride, where entire families, pilgrims and locals all come to the ghat steps to bathe in the Ganges, wash their clothes, meditate, or just have a chai and gossip. By 6:45, the steps are a hive of activity before sunrise. It was really funny to compare the whoops and yells of teenagers and young kids dunking in the river to the very sober immersions of adults. The Varanasi ghats also have another purpose – crematoriums. Bodies are burned on the ghats, and then the ashes swept into the river. I had a lot of emotions and thoughts about watching these very public funerals. It was a really sobering start to the day, especially when my guide said that around 200 bodies are cremated each day here.

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Making an offering on the river- unfortunately it tipped the second I put it on the water!!

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A snapshot of Varanasi from the water

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Early morning boats lined up in the fog

After a short walking tour of the winding streets of Varanasi, it was back to the hotel for a quick breakfast before leaving again to head to Saranath. Sarnath is where Buddha gave his first sermon after enlightenment, meaning that this entire area is holy to Buddhists, Hindus and Jains. I had a really lovely couple of hours wandering around the ruins of old temples and walking around the enormous stupa that commemorates the spot. It was also really fun to see Buddhists of all nationalities wandering around, chanting or using prayer beads, especially some of the younger monks who were anything but peaceful!

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The biggest stupa, with some monks chanting underneath it… the light was definitely not on my side today!

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Old remnants of stupas built by pilgrims over hundreds of years

After a quick visit to a silk weaving workshop, my last day in Varanasi is complete. Tomorrow I head to Goa for a week long Ayurvedic retreat, where my only goals are to read, eat fruit, and do yoga (maybe). The past few days on tour have completely flown by, and it’s been so incredible to literally not have to worry about anything- whether it’s the days itinerary, or how I’m moving from one place to the next. HUGE thank yous to Natasha for organising this itinerary, 10/10 recommend! Her instagram is @natashatravelcounsellor.

Onwards to Goa!

Posted by tegzevans 11:10 Comments (0)

The Taj Mahal!


Finally figured out how to add a map in - hope this helps keep track of where I am Dad!

Today I saw the Taj Mahal! I was picked up from my hotel, and the weather was so foggy we couldn’t see the other side of the road. Our first stop was the Red Fort – when we walked in, my guide said that usually people are in awe and stop to take a lot of pictures from the outside. For us, however, all we could see was white! The fort itself is a massive complex that has huge red walls, two moats, and many palaces inside. The inside of the fort ranges from red standstone Hindu style palaces to intricate white marble Islamic style palaces…all right next to each other!

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One of the least foggy shots of the red fort

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Apparently you can see the Taj Mahal (or at least the gardens…) from this window!

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The intricate design patterns in some Islamic palaces in the red fort - this is made from onyx, jasper, agate, malachite and lapis lazuli

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:)

After the Red Fort, we headed to the Taj Mahal, with our fingers crossed that the fog would ease. Thankfully for us, the weather began to ease as we were nearing the Taj and we had a very lucky hour with a little bit of sunlight (although still very grey!). The Taj Mahal is essentially a giant love letter created by the Moghul Emperor, Shah Jahan for his late wife. The mausoleum was finished in around 1643, and is complete white marble with semi-precious stone decorations. I had a very happy few hours wandering around, taking way too many photos, and we left right as the midday rush started. Mum - I tried for a princess Di shot, but it was very, very busy at that point!

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Our first view of the Taj… barely!

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Thankfully it cleared up a little

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The sun reflecting off some of the marble and designs - I can imagine it’s dazzling in full sun!

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A lucky photo with no one else in it!

Tomorrow I leave very early to Delhi for my flight to Varanasi, the last stop on my sightseeing tour of India before some downtime in Goa!

Posted by tegzevans 11:23 Comments (0)

Totally templed out: Mathura and Vrindavan

I’m writing this from my hotel room in Agra, praying for blue skies tomorrow for my visit to the Taj Mahal! Unfortunately, it looks foggy and grey, as it has been for the past few days. I left Delhi yesterday morning for the four hour drive to Agra, with stops en-route in Mathura and Vrindavan. Today, I also went back to Vrindavan for some more visits! Vrindavan is a holy city in India- there are roughly 5,000 temples, many of which are dedicated to Krishna and Radha. It is also a very important city for Hare Krishnas and Hindu pilgrimage, so it’s very busy city! Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of picture as you are not allowed to take photos inside a lot of temples- I can’t figure out how to add links here, but if you google the name and Vrindavan it should appear! :)

Yesterday we started in Mathura, which is Krishna’s birthplace, in a temple called Krishna Janmabhoomi temple (literally, Krishna’s birthplace). Getting inside the temple was intense – no phones, cameras, or food (RIP the doughnut I had sneaked from the hotel breakfast as a snack). My passport was also inspected, and I was quizzed on my name and birthday but a very unsmiley guard, who then gave me a VIGOROUS patdown. I wasn’t allowed to take pictures inside, but the temple itself was massive, and very beautiful.

From there, we made a pit-stop at the Bhagavad Gita temple, which was closed – most temples close between 12:00-16:00, so a lot of the places we visited were closed. Definitely aim to get there early!

Our next stop was Govind Dev Temple, which was originally seven stories high. Apparently, the lamps at the top of the temple could be seen at the Taj Mahal at the time (which is over an hours drive away!). My guide said that the top four floors of the temple were removed because of this, and a lot of the inner inscriptions and deities defaced. The temple reminded me a lot of churches at home – huge archways, tall ceilings. It felt weirdly familiar.

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On our way to Kesi Ghat, we stopped at a tiny temple that had incredible pictures of Krishna, and depicted a lot of the stories about him. Inside the temple, I somehow ended up making an offering to Krishna and Radha, and received blessings from the priests, along with good fortune for my family (you’re welcome!). The weather was still pretty miserable, cold and foggy, so we didn’t see much at Kesi Ghat through the fog – but apparently it’s a very idyllic and peaceful place in the summer.

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Kesi Ghat

We also stopped at Jaipur Temple, which was so peaceful and ornate but also closed. I’ll never get used to cows roaming around, usually with some form of decoration! Our final stop for the day was Paga Baba Temple, which was another quiet and peaceful temple. It was closed, but we could wander around the grounds – I didn’t get many pictures here as I had been warned about monkeys. I took those warnings seriously when my guide found a stick to protect us!

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After a busy day of temple-ing and being in very bumpy and cold Tuk Tuks, I was so grateful to get back to my hotel. Today, I was better prepared with more layers! Our first stop was Prem Mandir, which is a massive, recently built temple that is so incredibly ornate. The outside is full of pictograms of Krishna’s life, some of which looked pretty weird and funny without context! Again, I couldn’t take pictures of the inside, but imagine LED Christmas lights, massive crystal chandeliers and Sanskrit plaques.

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From Prem Mandir, we rickshawed over to the ISKCON temple, which is more generally known as the Hare Krishna temple. I was super excited to see this temple- I had read a lot about it, and had chatted to a lot of Hare Krishnas about Vrindavan before leaving the UK. It was complete chaos in a really familiar way – I have spent some time with the Hare Krishna’s back home, so I felt really at ease there, and was so happy to join in with the chanting. We ended up staying for a long time, watching the kirtan (musical chanting) and the deity Aaarti, which ended with water and flowers being thrown at us. By chance, I then ran into some friends I had made on the train journey from Haridwar to Delhi, so we spent a long time chatting too which was lovely!!

After a long time at the ISKCON temple, we rickshawed over (despite Indian style traffic jams) to Nidhivan temple, where again I was severely cautioned against taking photos because of the monkeys. Again, my guide produced a stick to defend us against the monkeys, so I took it seriously! Apparently, the monkey’s now have a bartering system in place, where if they steal a phone, hat or someone’s glasses, they will hold it ransom until a suitable price has been reached. For example, one hat is worth a banana and some chocolate! Nidhivan is tiny temple that was absolutely RAMMED with people- I swear my feet were not touching the floor in places.

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Traffic jam, India style

After a little bit of shopping in the market, where I bought waaaay too much incense, we drove back to Agra. I’m now resuming my prayers for sunshine tomorrow for my visit to the Taj Mahal. My two days in Vrindavan were perfect – I’ll definitely be back I think to explore some more temples. Huge thanks to Natasha, who planned this tour - I am loving it so far!!

Posted by tegzevans 12:14 Comments (2)

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