Imaginative Traveller – Farewell dinner and the speech that said it all

After an impromptu day of running around Connaught centre in Karol Bagh, Delhi on a mission to find a cheap good quality sitar, Sam and I arrive at the Imaginative Traveller final farewell dinner 30 minutes late.
Being Delhi traffic rookies, we completely underestimated peak time.

When we finally arrive at the restaurant, we apologised profusely to Apji, our tour leader, and the group for being late. Everyone seemed cool with it, telling us not to worry and that they too had just arrived. Apji, however had a definite angry vibe about him and was not speaking.

A bit of background as to why I was positive Apji thought I was a royal pain.

– When Sam and I went to the Bollywood movie it ran for 3 hours, an hour over what we had expected, and when we returned to the hotel late after dark, Apji was waiting for us, worried sick.

– There was the time when we had the henna done before dinner and couldn’t use our hands to eat.

– Our hotel room in Varanasi had bed bugs, so we asked to be moved to a new room, and again due to a dirty bathroom.

– When I fell in cow shit on the way to the Ganges, I told Apji that I would need a shower before dinner. He gave a reluctant yes. Then after the arati he asked the group what they wanted to do, go straight to dinner or go back to the hotel room first to freshen up. ‘Hello, I’m covered in cow dung, shower first please!’ He ignores me and asks the question to the group again. Everyone agrees hotel first. Lucky for me, and them.

– After freshening up in the room before dinner, as Sam and I were taking the lift to the lobby to meet everyone, I sprayed bug repellant on my arm and it bounced off into my right eye. I instantly went blind from the stinging and high concentration of DEET. Sam went straight into action and led me back to our room, into the bathroom and helped splash cold water in my eye. We end up being late for dinner, and I turn up with a terminator red-eye. Everyone asked what had happened, except for Apji.

– The following afternoon, Sam and I had made an appointment with the palm reader who was running late. I don’t know why, but everyone else, who were not seeing the palm reader, waited with us for over an hour.

– And finally, I had a stomach bug that put me out for half a day, and when people asked how I was, I would joke that I did have an upset tummy but I’ve taken so many ammonium’s (thanks Sam!) that I wouldn’t need a toilet for weeks!

So back to the farewell dinner – Apji’s speech.

Apji, standing – ‘I’d like to thank Scott and Jason, I’ve especially loved the conversations I’ve had with Scott’ pats him on the back ‘And Jason, you always kept the group together, I’ve been watching and there were times of separation and division but you always kept everyone together. Miriam, you never complained, even though you were sick, you never complained’

I started to feel a little apprehensive about Apji’s speech. I never felt the group separation, and I did let everyone know about my upset tummy – what’s he going to say about us?

Apji went on to have a private joke with Dave that I didn’t understand.

‘Sam and Tiara, you should thank everyone for having to wait for you, every morning and evening. It has been difficult’ Pauses, an at that moment Sam starts crying (the timing was immaculate) Apji continues ‘but I’m glad you were part of the group’

You know that moment when your insecurities of thinking you’re a pain in the ass come true? Here it was – the public nightmare. I sat there feeling a mixture of emotions, shock, anger, embarrassment, confusion,wondering if Sam was crying because it was a sad moment or because Apji had called us difficult? All the while keeping a polite smile on my face. The group had gone silent, as Sam dabbed the tears away. It was an awkward moment.

We were all getting ready to leave and I asked Sam if she was ok.

Sam – ‘Yeah, did we get back our change?’

T, turns the question to the table – ‘Did our change come back?’

I didn’t get a reply, but Apji gave Jason a knowing look, and I realised that we had been labeled stingy as well. (This could have been due to my now acute state of paranoia)

Note – I understand Apji felt bad for the group, and he was a terrific tour leader – We all had a great time! Though I would have prefered a private chat to the public humiliation.

The palm reader – The Varanasi astronomy centre

The palm reader was a middle age doctor type who came recommended from the Varanasi Astrology centre, looking very tidy in his business shirt and pressed pants. We were told that anyone who is really good is usually booked out for months before-hand, and to be honest, both Sam and I were seeing the palm reader purely for entertainment value.

He read Sam first, the only information needed was her date of birth, time of birth and her palm.

Palmist – ‘You are creative at work’
Sam is a graphic designer
Palmist – ‘You will have children later in life. 2 boys.’
Sam’s been told this before by another spiritual reader
Palmist – ‘You will be very lucky in marriage, job, and in general for the next ten years, but in this year’ points to a year within the next ten years of Sams life ‘you must take care in your marriage.’

He said Sam attracts people and has influence over those around her, and that later in life she will meet a foreigner out of her social class who will help her.

All this was pretty believable if you meet Sam, she’s a good spirit who should be lucky for the next 10 years! But I was still skeptical, thinking ‘what’s he going to say about me? that I’m going to be unlucky for the next ten years?’

The palmist quickly drew out my timelines, took my date and time of birth and scrutinised my palm.

T’s palmist reading – Note, throughout this I never gave any indication whether he was right or wrong, I only listened.

‘The dragon will be in your space in 2013-2014’, meaning something bad will happen. ‘Not to you, but to someone around you. During this time you will feel like prison (thinks) no, trapped.’

‘The dragon has been in your space before’ (backdates the timeline and points to 2004-2005) ‘Something happened here’ (My mother passed away in May 2004 after a 4 year battle with cancer)

‘Mercury is very strong with you, you will always be good with money, your wallet will never be empty’ (smiles at his own joke. And my best friend Dale would definitely agree with this.)

– But the palmist also said that ‘the government will always be good to you’ this was weird, does he mean that I’m going to be on welfare for the rest of my life? ‘No, you will have a prestigious job that will take you overseas. You will also travel when you are 37’ (hmmm.)

– Then he freaks me out again, he closes his eyes like he’s thinking and asks me ‘You are the youngest?’ (Yes)‘your mother has health problems, and what she has, you will also have’ then opens his eyes and looks at me, ‘but don’t worry, you will live a long life’ (he could have easily asked if I was the eldest and said something about my father, but he didn’t, he was spot on.)

‘Mercury is especially strong in 2010 -2013 and again after 2014, in 2014 you will buy a house. And these are also the years when you will have an opportunity to have children’ (pauses and goes back to 2007-2008) ‘you had the opportunity in this year but that has past’ (could be true) ‘You will have two male children’ (sound familiar?) Still, I was disappointed, I’ve only ever wanted girls. I asked him if he was sure, and he was.

Men – He tells me that Leo’s are good for me (a partner who has always been kind to me is Leo), and Capricorn’s are bad.

He asks if I am interested in astronomy, I say not particularly, he says that I will be later on in life and that I have a natural gift for reading people. Then he looks at me seriously and says

‘Do not criticise people too much, this is not good for you’

I laugh, now he was reading my mind – I’ve always been a critic.

All in all, I was impressed. I’ve had my fair share of palm readers, and each time I’ve thought it was all bullshit. But this guy made a believer out of me, that perhaps not everything, but some things could be told from the numbers, the stars, the planets and your palm.

Holy shit! – The Ganges

Varanasi is a very spiritual place – Some would say fanatically spiritual, especially at the crack of dawn.

I was following the crowd of pilgrims, and many tourist, as they made their way to the holy Ganges river for the evening arati which is a blessing ceremony performed in front of thousands gathered at the water.

Walking and talking to Jason and Sam, I suddenly went sliding pass them and glided through the surprised crowd for at least three seconds as if in slow motion. In this flow, my flip-flop (slipper) curled under my right foot and my heel slid through something mushy as I started to lose my balance.

Now, I’m the type of person who breaks their fall by grabbing anything and anyone around them. Unfortunately, the person I slid next to was an indian lady with a beautiful red sari that matched the beautiful long scarf over her head.
In an act of desperation, I grab her head scarf, pulling her down slightly, but slowing my descent enough to throw my right arm under me to not fall arse first into the rather large skid of cow dung.

T, standing up and looking in disbelief at the mess up her arm, on her scarf, her feet and up her trousers – ‘Cow shit? I slipped in COW SHIT!?!’

A crowd gathered around me, giving me the reassuring ‘you’ve been blessed’ speech, but being careful not to touch the dung covered blessed girl.

Being a good sport and not wanting to make a fuss, I continue the holy walk to the holy Ganges river covered in holy stinking cow shit.

At the Ganges, in one of the temples with an amazing view over the performed arati, I wipe myself off with many wet wipes (there is no running water) and sit next to Jason to enjoy the ritual. I was awed at the spiritual vibe that was flowing through the atmosphere and getting into the spirit of things when I notice some dried poo on my forearm that I had missed cleaning.

Jason, watching me – ‘More shit?’

T – ‘Yup.’ starts wiping it off with yet another wet wipe.

Though fully appreciative of the amazing scenes before me as thousands of pilgrims chanted and priests performed rituals with props of fire, water, and feathers, I couldn’t help but wonder if that occasional bad smell that the wind carried was coming from me, or the Ganges?

Lesson- Always watch where you’re walking

Discovering that my tibetan prayer beads were an amazing gift indeed – Tales from Varanasi

After a 13 hour overnight, draining(!), train ride to Varanasi, during which commuters battled it out for bunks, and Apji almost got into a fist fight with an Australian lady defending my bunk bed, (some spanish guy had taken hers so she thought it would be ok to take someone elses,) and where Sam and I had a rather polite conversation with an old indian man deliberating over something as important as what day it was (we had no idea, but it was Wednesday), we reach the main Indian Buddhist state of Varanasi, where Buddha had preached his first sermon after reaching enlightenment.

We visit a Buddhist temple in Sarnath that depicts the life of Buddha through the artwork on its walls. There I speak to a Buddhist devotee who ran a little charity stall in the temple while buying some prayer beads (Japa Malas).

T – ‘Sorry, I don’t know much about prayer beads, what’s the difference between these two?’ (pointing at the dark beads verse the light beads)

Devotee – ‘These are sandalwood and are more expensive’, then he points to the prayer beads I was wearing around my neck,’where did you get those?’

T, touching the pretty prayer beads around her neck – ‘An old Tibetan lady gave these to me as a gift in China’ (refer to ‘why? Are my prayer beads good ones?’

Devotee, smiles – ‘Yes, those are very good’

T, surprised – ‘Oh great! And do you know what kind of beads they are? People always ask me and I can never tell them, and I’ve been trying to look for more in India but I haven’t been able to find any beads like mine’

Devotee – ‘It is made from bodhi seeds’

T – ‘Bohdi seeds, cool, and bodhi seeds are good?’ (he nods) ‘great, thanks!’

I walk out of there and head next door where the group were waiting under a type of fig tree that had a border of golden Buddha models encased in glass built around it. There I learnt that this tree was very sacred. It was a direct descendant (cut off) from the tree that Siddhartha Gautama had achieved enlightenment while meditating under its sheltering leaves.

It was under this tree that Siddhartha Gautama became Buddha.

This tree, I discovered, was the Bohdi Tree.

When in India one must see a Bollywood movie – Tales from Agra

Both Sam and I agreed that when in India, it would be simply shameful to miss out on watching a Bollywood movie, so while everyone else took off to see another fort, we opted for the cinemas.

We chose a movie called Anjaana & Anjaani, a modern-day romantic comedy about intercommunal love between a couple of strangers who seemed to have very similar names… or so I thought from looking at the posters. (Anjaana /Anjaani actually means male stranger/female stranger.)

We arrive at the cinemas in time to be checked through the metal detector, have our bags searched and to be frisked. The security was tighter than New Zealands border security! And, unfortunately, they found something – Sam’s full packet of smokes and a lighter.

Security – ‘you can’t take this in, no smoking’

Sam, pleading – ‘But I’m not going to smoke it!’

Security, unmoved – ‘you can’t take this in. this must be checked into the storage.’

To check an item into storage was 200 rupees, and it looked dodgy enough for us to question whether there would be any cigarettes in the packet on our return. On principal, we decided it best to say that we were going to pass the ciggies onto some friends, and instead hide the pack in an empty, unfinished department store (renovations were still being done throughout the mall and there were many unfinished cement rubble rooms). We walk away from the theatre with the security watching us like a hawk, and about 200m away, I quickly duck into an empty store and hide the ciggies behind a brick. When I pop out of the store I notice other shoppers watching us (all men) but they were at a safe enough distance.

The security doesn’t bother to search us when we return to the cinema’s.

We had been warned that there would be plenty of men in the theatre, but were pleasantly surprised to find it mainly occupied with families and non sleazy boys, who were friendly but only had eyes for the movie.

The Bollywood movie experience was terrific! Yes, the movie was full of cheese. The opening scene was in a new york wall street office when the stock market plummeted and these 5 indian men, who I think were responsible, were arguing in the office in Hindi in front of all these white dumb looking westerners, (totally believable). The power cut at least once. There were no subtitles, but the movie was simplistic enough and filled with plenty of over-emotional acting that we got it. And I have to admit that there were times when I would let out an involuntary loud sigh or groan over ‘the obvious’, and the music was so catchy that it got stuck in our heads for days. Yet, it was happy, fun, and the actors were beautiful to watch through the occasional cringe.

We walk out of the cinemas all smiles. Sam, a highly active smoker, was keen to pick up her pack of well hidden ciggies.

Sam retrieves the smokes from behind the brick of our chosen empty store.

Sam – ‘Take a look at this!’

T, viewing the pack of cigarettes which had been full a couple of hours ago and now only had 2 cigarettes left -‘Unbelievable, they could have taken the whole pack but at least they’ve left you a couple’
Sam, laughing – ‘yeah, they saw us hide the cigarettes, stole them, but left one for you and one for me.’

T – ‘cheeky. and sweet.’

When in India one must see the Taj Mahal – Tales from Agra

Jennie warned me that this would happen, she told me that the sight of the Taj Mahal would take my breath away.. and it did. I literally could not breath as I watched the Taj Mahal through sunrise, each ray adding a different shade of reflective light from the white marble that the taj was lovingly built from. I had to hold back tears! The experience invoked such raw emotion and the magnificent creation told a silent story even before the history of this structure was verbally announced out loud.

It was so beautiful. And it was created purely out of love for a woman. The story goes that the emperor was grief-stricken after the death of his third wife during the birth of their 14th child, and it was her dying wish that her emperor build the Taj Mahal as a symbol of their love.

The scriptures that border the entries to the Taj is from the popular islamic prayer, the Ya sin, that speaks of living a good life. The interior designs hold more than just Islamic influence, since the mausoleum was built by a Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, who was ruling a mainly Hindu nation, he wanted everyone to feel that they represented the Taj Mahal and everyone was welcome.

Local guide – ‘The Taj Mahal represents love and belongs to everyone who loves’

I’m going to call it – The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful man-made monument that I’ve had the fortune and pleasure of viewing through-out my journey so far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Im still making that call at the end of my journey.

Definitely worthy of anyones bucket list.

It’s henna time! The royal dining experience – Magical moments of Karauli

Henna is one of those ‘when in India’ moments, you know, when in India one must get some henna tattoo with traditional design painted on them?

After a full day of activity, Miriam, Sam and I managed to squeeze in some ‘Henna time’ just before dinner.

This was not a well thought out plan. Firstly, Henna takes hours to dry, and sometime during when the skilled henna ladies were decorating both sides of our hands, arms, and feet, questions like ‘How are we going to eat?‘ started to arise.

Sam and T – ‘Miriam, why didn’t you warn us??’

Miriam, the smart one, had asked for the henna to be painted on the one hand and arm only, and on her left hand at that (she’s right-handed).

Dumbfounded, Sam and I sat there, both our arms and feet detailed with intricate flower patterns and design, looking quite tribal, wondering how we were going to pull off eating a formal dinner with everyone in the royal dining hall..

Somehow, being the confidently food motivated person I am, I just knew instinctively that I would find a way to eat my buffet dinner without any hands. In fact, subconsciously, I had been training for this moment my whole life!

Sam, not knowing what else to do orders a beer with a straw.

T, feeling a bit more ambitious at the dinner table, asks the waiter to bring out her soup entree..with a straw.

We sit there, in this decadent room, at the majestic wooden and marble dining table with its silvers and crockery, with our henna printed arms lying face up on the table trying not to disturb the wet tattoo ink scrawled over both our arms and hands, both our heads down indifferently sipping our beer and soup.

Dave, as everyone at the table looks on in shocked amusement – ‘How stupid are you lot!?’ A statement, not a question.

T, in best spazz voice – ‘Taanks Duawve!’ then continues slurping soup through a straw, but leaving behind any chunky bits.

Thanks to the helpful and kind waiters, we successfully devour our buffet dinner (use your imagination), though we did leave behind a trail of broken crockery, and dry crumbs of dark brown henna paint.

The breakfast conversation NOT to have – Magical moments of Karauli

Waking up after a night’s rest in Karauli

Apji, to Sam and T ‘So how did you guys sleep?’

Sam – ‘Not so great’, then laughing ‘Did you hear us screaming?’

T, as Apji shakes his head ‘no’ – ‘We had a bug incident. We were doing our usual gossiping before going to sleep, then Sam lifts her head off her pillow and right there next to her head was this big black bug with legs and wings! So Sam had this brilliant idea of taking the pillow outside with the bug still on it and setting it free, but as she lifts the pillow the bug jumped off and onto the bed. Sam came screaming back into the corner of the room where I was standing. So I then decide to catch it with some tissue, but as I neared the bed and almost had it in my hand, it jumped on me, and I came screaming back into the corner. So then,’ (pausing, cringing slightly, realising how the story ends and what I would have to tell the expectant group over breakfast), ‘so then, we killed it with our shoe’ shamefully puts head down, starts eating cereal.

Note – We panicked. It was an uncontrolable reaction, and we’re sorry.

Village walk – Magical moments of Karauli

Walking around the village town was my favourite moment in Karouli. It was like stepping back in time when every shop was owned, operated and run by the local tradespersons of sweets, bangles, rolling pins and leaf plates. Loud, dusty, noisy and smelly yet charming. During this walk, I learnt that cows eat practically anything, and pigs definitely do.

There was even a lady making dung cake for biofuel.

T, referring to the many pigs roaming the streets for scraps to ‘pig out’ on ‘I’m trying to work out why there are so many pigs around? I mean, they’re not considered holy animals, hindu’s don’t eat them and neither do muslims, they don’t offer milk as far as I know…what’s their role in this society?’

Jason – ‘To eat al the garbage’ indicating to the trash in all the old, old, school gutters and littered on the dirt streets ‘And for hair brushes, and some Hindus do eat pork. They just don’t advertise it’

Karauli Arati (blessing at the temple)- Magical moments of Karauli

The first morning in Karauli took us to a Hindu temple dedicated to one of the re-incarnations of the God Krishna.

Sitting next to a group of little old indian women who were chanting harmoniously for the morning arati, induced an uplifting joyful environment, their high spirits and faith creating what I can only describe as a loving and welcoming atmosphere.

As my friend Bianca would say, ‘it was like a warm hug.’

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